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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/16/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 16, Whole Number 1567
Table of Contents
Acknowledgement (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This week's MT VOID is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. Look mean. [-mrl]
Science Fiction Discussion Groups:
October 22: selected Edgar Allan Poe stories, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 12: TBD, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and book after film
Puzzle Answer (puzzle by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The puzzle was:
Take a famous person's name. Add one letter to the last name and you get that person's occupation. Remove one letter from the first name, re-arrange the letters, and you get what that person makes others do.
The answer is "Edgar Allan Poe". [-ecl]
Internet in 2012? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Just an idea. In 2010 the World Science Fiction Convention will be in Australia. That is a long way away. Particularly in the current economy there will not be a lot of fans attending from North America. There will be more in 2011 when the convention is in Reno. But it still will be a distance for the Australians and Europeans to come and even the fans from the East Coast fans. The problem is that so much of fandom is so widely dispersed. Maybe it is time to consider having conventions, even Worldcons, on the Internet. Just about everything that happens at a convention could be put on-line. I suppose there is some question about the masquerade and, of course, the restaurant-going. But we science fiction fans are supposed to be forward-looking people. Maybe we should start to consider digital science fiction conventions. [-mrl]
I Saw It Coming (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Apparently there is more sameness to the universe than had previously been thought. The universe has much more entropy that had previously been calculated.
I didn't know it, but I knew it, if you know what I mean. If in the summertime you go to a movie and look at the "Coming Attractions" you know there will be one film in which someone was wrongfully killed and is coming back with some prop like a shoehorn or something and killing everybody who was involved. There will be one film in which the dead return to eat brains. That sort of thing. The entropy had to be a lot higher than people thought. [-mrl]
The Future of Horror May Be True Horror (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I talked about how I got interested in science fiction in the first place. Part of the point was that I was young and it was a long time ago. I grew up loving horror films as much as science fiction. Even before my parents wanted me to see them I was anxious to see all the great (?) monsters. Who knows where I first heard about Frankenstein, but I somehow knew that it was a monster (well, at least they called the monster "Frankenstein") even though I had never seen a film. I think I knew about Shelley's creation when I was six or seven. I know that by the time I was nine I understood references to the monster in MAD magazine. And I know I saw my first Frankenstein film Saturday night, October 31, 1959, when I was visiting my grandmother in Akron, Ohio. There was a triple feature of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY'S GHOST, and MAN- MADE MONSTER on the local television. (Ah, sweet memories. Though I was allowed only to stay up for the first two.)
This is all really going to say that while I had saw horror films (whenever I could) relatively early most of what I saw was comparatively wholesome and non-threatening horror. I did not really believe there was a Frankenstein monster that could come for me. This sort of movie, and the "Captain Midnight" episodes I talked about last issue were in reasonably good taste. Today young horror fans seem to have grown up on the likes of Michael and Jason going around decapitating fornicating teenagers. Then there is Freddy Kruger with his razor gloves. Delightful. So there are teens and twenty-somethings who grew up thinking the soul of horror is stalkers and sharp metal. We are both fans of horror films, but not the same sort. So when I went to the world science fiction convention, I wanted to see the panel on "The Future of Horror". I did not know what I was going to see. I was hoping I would find out that today's kids were getting smarter and liking fare more intelligent than the horror films we have been seeing of late. Do the Buffy-ites have somehow better taste in film? Are all the fans devotees of books like TWILIGHT? Is their idea of horror the "Looking for Mr. Goodbite" variety? I didn't know. But I expected that the people attending would be as interesting as the films they were discussing.
There was a panel of three women, seemingly in their 20s. Okay. The first thing they said is that the horror films have not been very good of late. (Right on!) The people making the films are not giving us much that is original. (You said it!) We are getting far too many new remakes of older horror films. (Right on!) There is no reason to remake a horror film that was made in color. (Absolutely ri... Wait. What was that?)
Now why do I think that nearly all the best horror films were in black and white? The old Universal horror films were all monochrome. Films like FRANKENSTEIN and THE BLACK CAT were all made in monochrome. They don't need to be remade as far as I am concerned. They are great as they are. Color would ruin the mood. Even in the 1950s when there was color, many of the best horror films like THE NIGHT OF THE DEMON (a.k.a. THE CURSE OF THE DEMON) and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON were in black and white. Hammer Films was experimenting with color and doing very nicely, but black and white was still a very viable medium. Would it help today, as Dan Kimmel suggests (in jest), to colorize UN CHIEN ANDALOU?
I was hoping that the audience would rise in protest and complain about the panel's disinterest in monochrome. Well, they did disagree, but not as I was hoping they would. Someone complained you couldn't ask teens to see a 25-year-old film. No? Let's see. I was a teen about 1965. A 24-year-old film would have been, say, THE WOLF MAN. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN would have been about 30. But as a teen I wanted to see silent horror films too. Not just black and white, but silent! NOSFERATU from 1922 was 43 years old. M was 34. DER GOLEM and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI were 45. What kind of a horror fan does not like old horror films?
I was hoping the audience would say what they found wrong with 25- year-old films. They did. The guy in the audience explained if a film is 25 years old the characters all have such bad clothing and such bad haircuts. You look at them and say that would never be you.
That at least gives me something to think about. Why do I get a chill when I see Nosferatu come through the doorway? I don't look like Hutter (the Jonathan Harker character) or have a haircut like Hutter. That could never be me. But the images still affect me. And more importantly I can put myself in Hutter's place, even if he has a different haircut. But this scares me more than the horror film. This kid, and apparently his whole generation, cannot feel horror for someone who dresses differently. If he cannot feel horror for another teenager who just does not wear the right clothing, how will he ever feel horror for someone like a Rwandan Tutsi who is at the mercy of a Hutu with a machete? Is the kid so self-absorbed that he can only empathize with someone who looks and dresses just like him? So it would seem.
The panel also complained about the sort of horror film in which the hero is a good person (in these films that generally means physically attractive) and follows all the rules and so should be safe at the end, but ends up dead anyway. Once or twice a film with that touch might be okay, the panelist said, but you should be able to follow the rules and survive. (No the real horror is that not having a nice, simple formula to survive. True horror is having nothing you can do. Unfortunately, not having fool-proof formulae to survive is all too real in this world.)
So I do not expect much from the next generation of horror films, but I expect much less of the next generation of horror film fans. [-mrl]
MARY AND MAX (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Witty animation tells this story in just about the only way it could be told pleasantly. A lonely Melbourne eight-year-old picks a random name from a New York City phonebook and begins what will become a correspondence of many years. At the other end is a New York City man suffering from Asperger's syndrome. From opposite ends of the world the two can say anything to each other, and the clay animation lets us see what their minds' eyes are seeing. The story is wise and funny in ways it could not be in live action. Oscar-winner Adam Elliot directs while almost unrecognizably Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman voice the two main roles. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
This could be the golden age of animated films, but nearly always the films are have frothy, silly themes. Hamburgers fall from the sky or balloons pull a house up into it. Very rarely does a director with a serious theme use animation and give us a GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES or a WALTZ WITH BASHIR. Adam Elliot, who won the Best Short Animated Film Oscar in 2003 for "Harvie Krumpet" gives us the bittersweet epistolary relationship between Mary Daisy Dinkle and Max Jerry Horovitz. And it is all rendered in clay. Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child, Toni Collette as an adult) is at the beginning an eight-year-old living a lower-class life in a suburb of Melbourne in 1976. Her mother seems to live on nipping sherry and stealing from the grocers. With a silly question about where babies come from she picks a random name, Max Jerry Horovitz, from a New York telephone book and writes to Max to find where babies come from in the United States. Max is, it turns out, a morbidly obese New York Jewish man who suffers from Asperger's syndrome. The unlikely couple forms a relationship that lasts for two decades. Each has bizarre viewpoints on the real world and the way the world is, and Elliot renders their minds' eye visions in animation. Their relationship is by turns comical and painful.
We look at Max's lonely life ruled by frequently pointless order. He is almost devoid of human companionship and happy to strike up a friendship with this young Australian. Director Elliot uses a style of a black-and-while world with just one or two objects in the picture in color. Mary gets to live in a color world, but one that is not very pleasant. The film does not clean up the rough edges of life; it glories in them. And Max's life is almost all rough edges. But by keeping the telling simple, as it is in the letters, we are not dragged into the tragedy with full impact of Max's or Mary's situations. With time Mary is able to transcend her environment and even turn what she learned from her relationship with Max into her career. Max never has that strength and the real tragedy is his.
This is not the sort of 3-D animated film we have seen of late. The Claymation is perfect, but it always allows us to feel for the characters, never to minimize them. They never get into fights or have to race anywhere. These are simple characters rendered more likable by the comic distortion of the clay artwork. There is little real plot to this film but the characters are foremost.
While the film tells us that it is based on a true story--and it is a story that Adam Elliot should know well--there was no Mary. The film is based on Elliot's own correspondence with an Asberger's sufferer in the United States. Elliot is telling his own story with wit and charm.
This original film took five years to make. There is a lot of wisdom to it and it covers a great deal in a deceptively simple- seeming package. I rate MARY AND MAX a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0978762/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10010721-mary_and_max/
GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS: A DOCUMENTARY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is an over-the-top mock documentary. GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS: A DOCUMENTARY covers the making of an epic western film. It is being made in spite of the bad luck of having several actors die before the film is complete while the director has to work around the problem. Co-written and directed by animator Bill Plympton, this film is uneven both in its humor and in its appeal. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Bill Plympton is in a class by himself with his imaginative, anarchic animation. He will show people going through transformations that can best be described as "topological". People's smiles will turn them inside out or a woman's breasts will transform into hot-air balloons and carry her off into the sky. His films are visually creative and rarely have a lot of story. That makes it ironic that he would try his hand at a live- action film that limits him mostly to verbal humor. He did, however, attempt crossing over in 1995 when he co-wrote and directed his second live-action comedy. To be more specific, GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS is a mockumentary following the problems encountered in trying to make an epic western called GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS. There have been some very good comedies about Hollywood and film production. Among them are DAY FOR NIGHT, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, and LIVING IN OBLIVION. Plympton has a lot of competition and does not really come off a winner.
In the film we follow an adoring British filmmaker following the shooting of a new film by the "Producer/Genius" Holton P. Jeffers. Of course, to the viewer Jeffers seems to be making every possible mistake, including some mistakes nobody has ever made before. The production of the film is plagued with the sort of bizarre problem that one rarely thinks about with filmmaking. One actress talks normally off-stage, but in front of the camera she is reduced to severe stuttering. Sadly, she is the girlfriend of the executive producer and cannot be fired. Another actor has breath bad enough to fell the leading lady. The film has a barrage of problems that would intimidate a Terry Gilliam.
Plympton's style is to show some odd feature of the story and just keep shaking it in the viewer's face in the hopes that if it was funny at first it will remain so, and if it was not funny it will eventually seem funny. There are extended gags about an associate producer who is in love with kitsch popular paintings of children and animals with very large eyes. We see much more than we need to of this art and the gag seems borrowed from Arthur Hiller's THE IN-LAWS. We hear about the stuttering problem in clinical detail, which does not make it any funnier.
The film is shot so it seems like a grainy, low-budget affair. But what we are seeing is intended to be a cheap documentary with a rather arrogant, pretentious narrator/host. The film might work better if this narrator at least showed some surprise at the incompetence of what he is seeing. But none of the characters in the film are very believable and the film might have worked better as a farce not quite so exaggerated.
Humor is, of course, very subjective. Judging from other reviews of this comedy, some critics found GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS hilarious and some were on a completely different wavelength from the film. I found some if the ideas amusing, though lacking in their execution. They might have been better illustrated with Plympton's surreal cartoons than with the flat performances Plympton gets in live action. Particular fans of Plympton may find the film more rewarding than the typical film fan. I rate GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS: A DOCUMENTARY a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0113239
What others are saying: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0113239/externalreviews
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
ANCHORWICK by Jeffrey Barlough (ISBN-13 978-0-9787634-1-1) is the fifth in Barlough's "Western Lights" series; the first four are DARK SLEEPER, THE HOUSE IN THE HIGH WOOD, STRANGE CARGO, and BERTRAM OF BUTTER CROSS. The premise of this series is two-fold: the Ice Age never ended, and in 1839, the "sundering" happened. What the sundering was is not clear: a meteor, a volcano, some alien force? Whatever it was, it intensified the Ice Age. The world remains at a Victorian level ("Dickensian" might be an even better adjective), and mammoths roam the earth. Barlough says, "The series title is derived from the sundering. For since that dread event the sole place on earth where lights still shine at night is in the west." One sticking point is that although everything seems very English, various statements made by Barlough and his publishers seem to indicate that everything in the books is taking place on America's west coast. Another is that it is clear that this world's history is the same of ours--without an extended Ice Age--through at least Classical times, and there is at least some basis for assuming it is the same considerably later.
And with ANCHORWICK, Barlough introduces even more fantastical elements. There is a doorway to a world where time stands still, there seem to be (for lack of a better term) ghosts and supernatural goings on in one character's ancestral village, and in general we have drifted far afield from the "change-one-thing" rule that is usually applied to speculative fiction.
But I don't care. The writing style, the names, and the atmosphere are worth the willing suspension of disbelief required.
(I noted in my review of STRANGE CARGO that Barlough seems to be part of the movement called by Frederick John Kleffel "The New Victoriana", which includes books by such authors as Tim Powers, Neal Stephenson, and Susanna Clarke. See http://trashotron.com/agony/columns/2004/09-03-04.htm for more on this movement.)
I seem to be in a stretch of literary books. The writing style was critical in China Miéville's THE CITY & THE CITY, Jeffrey Barlough's ANCHORWICK, and now THE CITY OF DREAMING BOOKS by Walter Moers (translated by John Brownjohn) (ISBN-13 978-1-58567-899-0, ISBN-10 1-58567-899-6). And perhaps the style was even enhanced by the fact that I read the last third by candlelight because the electricity was out.
ANCHORWICK could be called Dickensian, but THE CITY OF DREAMING BOOKS, like THE CITY & THE CITY, is more Borgesian. The notion of Bookholm, a "book-obsessed metropolis," is more widespread (one might point to Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" series as an example), but it is the books themselves that fascinate. There are the Hazardous Books--the Toxicotimes, the hollowed-out book traps, the Analphabetic Terrortimes, books that can fly, books that can strangle. All that is missing seems to be the book of an infinite number of pages from Borges's "The Book of Sand".
There also seems to be a nod to Ray Bradbury in the Booklings, creatures each of whom dedicates himself to the memorization of the works of a single author and takes that author's name. As an example of the wordplay Moers indulges in, three of them are Doylan Cone (author of SIR GINEL), Aleisha Wimpersleake, and Wamilli Swordthrow. And one of the creatures--"the Darkman"--seems very much patterned after the Golem. Created by the Bookemists to defend Bookholm against its enemies, the Darkman was made of books, printer's ink, and herbs, and came to life when they "performed various rituals." After the Darkman came to life, he ran amuck but was eventually destroyed. (The running amuck is not in the original Golem legend, but got added later to the legend.) Even the illustration on page 96 looks like the original Czech depiction of the Golem ("a blast furnace with fists," to use Mark's phrase).
The only problem with THE CITY OF DREAMING BOOKS is that it is so dense with ideas, images, and wordplay that one needs to read more slowly than usual to appreciate it all. It also has marvelous black-and-white illustrations by Moers that deserve study. Perhaps in an homage to the CODEX SERAPHINIANUS, it has numbered its chapters using "alien" numerals. Unlike the CODEX, though, the numbering is quite decipherable. (Hint: see the illustration on page 37.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: What you don't see with your eyes, don't invent with your mouth. -- Yiddish proverb
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