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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/01/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 1, Whole Number 1656
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
July 14 (Thu): COLOSSUS THE FORBIN PROJECT by D. F. Jones, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of the book and film after film July 28 (Thu): DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM August 11 (Thu): PANIC IN YEAR ZERO and some associated book to be determined, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion after film August (TBD): THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 edited by Elizabeth Kolbert, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Why Does the MT VOID Volume Number Change on July 1? (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
You may have noticed that we change our volume number on July 1, not January 1. Why? Well, the MT VOID started life as the newsletter ("notice") for the Science Fiction Club at Bell Labs. Back in the 1980s, when the Bell System was split up, Mark and I (and the Science Fiction Club) went to a new company "American Bell" (which eventually ended up merged back into AT&T). There was a division between AT&T and American Bell that took effect July 1, 1983 (if I recall correctly) and we re-numbered the new newsletter at that time. When the re-merge happened, we increased the volume number to reflect the actual age, but left the roll-over point at July 1. [-ecl]
Food for Thought (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You might know that I am eating a lot of spicy food. Of late I wonder if that is such a good idea. Am I using my stomach as a breeding ground for capsaicin-resistant pylori? [-mrl]
Natural Disasters (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
It used to be that when a natural disaster or plague hit a community, the response was that they had somehow sinned against God, this was Divine retribution, and they should mend their ways. Now the reaction seems to be to blame whoever their enemies are for somehow causing the disaster and then to start trying to come up with a way to exact revenge. (In fairness, this reaction was not unknown in earlier times, but it seems to be the standard these days.) Their enemies seem to be 1) some branch of the government, 2) the gays in some other place entirely, or 3) a vast secret terrorist conspiracy. [-ecl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for March (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[Note: all times given are Eastern Daylight Time.]
Another month is upon us and it is time for me to point out some of the more interesting films coming up on Turner Classic Movies. Unfortunately there is little I can point to that I would call an "unknown gem." I guess after the large collection of science fiction and fantasy films Turner ran last month they do not feel they need to run as many this month.
We have seen released to theaters recently three super-hero films: THOR, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and GREEN LANTERN. It might be a good time to see and compare a super hero film almost eighty years old. I guess I would say one of the more interesting films is probably CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, a big-screen version of a radio program that ran at the same time the film was made. CHANDU was introduced about two years after the popular THE SHADOW. Chandu was really good old American Frank Chandler who learned psychic powers from the Yogis in India. He could teleport, project his mind outside his body, and hypnotize people. He took the name Chandu, but inside he was patriotic American Frank Chandler, using his powers to protect the United States. Chandu's chief nemesis was the evil Roxor. Before the radio program was a year old there was a film made, CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, directed by William Cameron Menzies, who would four years later direct THINGS TO COME and four years after that would be directing THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. For this film version Edmund Lowe played Frank Chandler a.k.a. Chandu. The evil Roxor was played by the great villain of the screen at that time, Bela Lugosi. In this film Roxor wants to rule the world with the use of his powerful death ray. Curiously, when a serial was made of Chandu in 1934 THE RETURN OF CHANDU also starred Bela Lugosi, but this time as the very American Frank Chandler (who for that film had a thick Hungarian accent, I guess). Anyway, though Chandu never had a pulp magazine like The Shadow did, this film has a good pulp magazine feel. Perhaps today we would even call it campy. (Wednesday, July 20, 2:30 AM)
FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967) may not really be as obscure as it once was. I have to say this is for me the best science fiction film ever made. For several years I made a reputation for myself telling people at science fiction conventions that they really HAD to see this film. These days it frequently shows up on fans' top ten science fiction film lists. And well it should. This film (also known as QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) is based on the third of BBC playwright Nigel Kneale's stories about the British rocket scientist Quatermass. Each of the Quatermass stories is about human first contact with aliens. This film glories in fascinating ideas. It starts with a human fossil uncovered by workmen digging a subway/underground tunnel and ends by explaining phenomena of our world including race prejudice, telekinesis, why distant cultures seem to have invented the same myths, why people see ghosts, and more. The film works overtime in giving the viewer a lot to think about and at the same time moves at a very good clip. Kneale like themes of the supernatural being scientific phenomena that had never been given their proper scientific explanations. The film came out about a year before 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on a similar theme, but as far as I am concerned Kneale thought out the ideas and implications better than even Arthur C. Clarke. In Britain this film is a recognized classic. (Saturday, July 2, 1:30 PM)
I am a big fan of films about engineering and a big fan of films about ancient history. The two interests rarely come together in one film. LAND OF THE PHARAOHS (1955) is the fanciful story of the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu building his pyramid and at the same time chasing an ambitious, power-hungry enslaved princess, played by Joan Collins. It is melodramatic stuff, ancient potboiler, but there is a lot of good information about Egypt and the details of ancient engineering really make the film. This is quite a spectacle, perhaps the best ever made about ancient Egypt. The score is by the great Dimitri Tiomkin and the screenplay was co-authored by--get this--William Faulkner. (Sunday, July 24, 9:45 PM) [-mrl]
ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a comedy about the making of the first Yiddish production of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET. Eve Annenberg produces, writes, stars in, and directs this story of a director-by-protest trying to get several formerly Ultra-Orthodox Jews to cooperate in the writing and performance of the play. The story has running some real comic possibilities, but few make it to the finish line and many of are lost to technical flaws. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
The title, ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH, leaves the content of this film in question. Is it just a production of the Shakespeare play in Yiddish or is it a comedy about the making of such a production like Andrew Fleming's HAMLET 2? Well, it is somewhere in between but more the latter. Eve Annenberg produces, writes, stars in, and directs this comedy about trying to redo ROMEO AND JULIET in WEST SIDE STORY fashion, but this time setting the story in the conflicts between the Satmar and Lubavitch Chasidic, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. Certainly on the surface it is a funny idea.
One does not think of these groups as being very violent people. Hearing Shakespeare rendered in Yiddish is a bit like hearing it rendered into Klingon. Yiddish is very close in some ways to German and it is odd to hear the poetry of Shakespeare wrapped around the language of impoverished Eastern European Jews. The timing of the release happens to be the same day, July 8, 2011, as that of Joe Dorman's excellent documentary SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS, about the greatest Yiddish writer. It would be a delight to say that ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH makes a very good companion film to the documentary. Unfortunately, I am afraid that is not the case. Annenberg's film is marred by technical flaws that make it at times hard to follow and which certainly get in the way of the wit.
The film follows two story lines, one of the production of the play and one of the play itself. Now, the play is done in modern Chasidic dress against contemporary Brooklyn backgrounds. This means that there is very little visual clue which story line one is seeing. One can tell if the characters are speaking poetically we are in the Shakespeare play. English is spoken only in the outer story, but Yiddish is spoken more often in the outer story. And often Shakespeare's poetry will be given a Yiddish turn of phrase. Luckily most of the scenes from Shakespeare are familiar to many viewers. But when the scene is less familiar it can be difficult to know which story-line is being presented.
Eva (played by Annenberg) is coerced into directing this ugly dog of a play at the risk of losing her college scholarship. She is told by her advisor that she should love doing this play because she is Jewish. The advisor has little idea how different one Jew can be from another. Eva finds some Chasidim who left their communities and gets them to translate the play and then to act in it. The stories of these writers and actors are spiced with real incidents from that actors' and writers' lives. But here is another problem. Some of these people while superficially appearing pious are scam artists for whom fraud is the family business (as the subtitles blithely tell us). There are just too few decent characters here to identify with or even wish well. Incidentally, the film features some very artistically done nude scenes. However they could never be artistic enough for the actors' own families to be allowed to see. Seeing nudity is forbidden to Chasidic Jews.
The film features mostly first-time actors from Brooklyn Chasidic communities and much too often they simply do not project their words. What might be funny lines in English come out garbled or just difficult to hear. The lines in Yiddish are translated for the viewer, but too often subtitles are whipped onto the screen and off again without time enough to read.
I often wonder when I see a film that does not quite work and for which one person is the writer, director, producer, and actor--or more--if the problem is that one person performing all those functions is spreading himself/herself too thinly. There are natural conflicts between the people in some of these positions. A director should not always agree with an actor and out of these conflicts come a stronger film. Eve Annenberg was ambitious to take all these jobs to herself, but it might not have been in the best interests of the final film. As it stands I rate ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1632724/
Detritus and GREEN LANTERN (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's comments on detritus in the 06/24/11 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
I definitely agree with you about the detritus of our lives. Our house seems to function in the same manner as yours, which I ascribe to the existence of our three children. All are grown now--well, mostly; Daniel is the only teenager at fifteen--but they all acquire things as they grow up, leaving them behind as their interests change.
This accumulation of stuff may very well be the modern-day equivalent of our hunter-gatherer forefathers. Think about it: if you're like me, you enjoy the hunt for the rare and elusive book, relish its flavor as you devour the story, then store its remains among the clutter of all of the other textual corpses lining the walls of your cave. For me, the same also goes for records, rare coins, occasional comic books, and guitars. For my wife, it's books, too, but also arts and crafts. Whenever we do spring cleaning or spend any kind of time organizing and discarding stuff in the garage/attic, our efforts resemble an archeological dig. It has gotten to the point where we can identify how old the kids were or what the weather was like based on an item's location in the accumulated strata. It is a bit frightening, now that I think about it. [-jp]
And in response to Dale Skran's review of GREEN LANTERN in the same issue, John writes:
Last Sunday my older daughter and her long-time boyfriend (my potential future son-in-law, of whom I approve) took me, her brother, and his parents to see GREEN LANTERN in 3-D. I enjoyed it. The movie is perfect summer entertainment fare: it's a visually fun movie with fantastic effects, and the story-line is very easy to follow. The thought of Kilowog being a racist jab is silly to me. I definitely agree with Dale Skran's assessment that everyone on Earth is seen as equal in the eyes of the Green Lantern Corp. That's one of the main themes in the movie, as is the classic "good wins out over evil" motif. The sequel with Senestra as the Yellow Lantern should likewise be entertaining. Yeah, I'd rate this as a 6 on a scale of 1-10.
Many thanks for another posting of the VOID, Mark and Evelyn. As always, an enjoyable read. [-jp]
Closed Captions (letter of comment by Pete Brady):
In response to Evelyn's comments on streaming content in the 06/24/11 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Brady writes:
You wrote, "The first problem is that most downloadable content does not seem to have subtitle or closed-caption options. With Netflix, if it's a foreign-language film, you will get English subtitles, but if it's not and you cannot understand the dialogue, you are out of luck. This is being worked on (supposedly), but currently this is a problem. But there is a more basic difficulty."
We don't have a high-speed connection or computers that can handle them (we have DSL, which is fine for most web sites). Cathy and I have become great fans of postal rental Netflix, and have watched many English-language films. My informal guess is that about half of them have captions. We just finished, and enjoyed, "The King's Speech," which did have captions. [-ptb]
Yes, the discs come with closed-captioning (I use that term and "subtitling" interchangeably in my article), but the streaming content ("Instant") does not. My point was that there are features of the discs that streaming does not provide. (There are often also lots of extras on the disc not available via streaming, but I did not even address those.) [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our general book discussion group (which has pretty much mutated into a science book discussion group) read ten articles from THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 (edited by Elizabeth Kolbert) (ISBN 978-0-547-00259-0). This series is popular with our group because one does not have to try to find a copy of the book; almost all the articles in it are available free on-line. (In my comments I will include the tinyurl for all of them.)
As I did with the Stephen Jay Gould book of essays I commented on a while ago, I will give just a sentence or two on each.
"Faustian Economics" by Wendell Berry (Harper's Magazine) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-001: The key phrase in this seems to be "the fantasy of limitlessness." We operate under the (often explicitly expressed) assumption that "science will find a way." It won't.
"The Ethics of Climate Change" by John Broome (Scientific American) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-011: This suggests we should use cost-benefit analyses and the discount rate for future goods to make decisions about climate change.
"Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr (The Atlantic Monthly) Monthly) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-019: Is the Internet making permanent changes to our cognition, such as decreasing our ability for deep reading? Friedrich Nietzsche found that a typewriter changed his writing style, and we know word processors have had a big impact as well. Lewis Mumford said that the invention of the mechanical clock "disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurably sequences."
"High-Tech Trash" by Chris Carroll (National Geographic) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-030: Our electronic waste, full of dangerous and deadly materials, is exported to Third World countries where it is disassembled, burned, and otherwise processed for whatever can be re-sold, but with no attempt to protect either the people who are working with it, or the environment.
(By this point in the book, one is tempted to just put it down and shoot oneself.)
"Intel Inside" (a.k.a. "Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police") by Andrew Curry (Wired) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-039: Computers are being used to piece together millions of documents shredded by the East German Stasi. This reminds me the scene in SNOWCRASH of Hiro Protagonist having the computer produce a picture of the intact ancient tablet from the fragments created when the tablet was smashed on the carrier deck.
"Blown Apart" by Keay Davidson (California) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-049: More about dark energy.
"Did Life Begin in Ice?" by Douglas Fox (Discover) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-056: Fox proposes the idea that life is more likely to develop in a super-cold environment rather than a hot one.
"The Day Before Genesis" by Adam Frank (Discover) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-066: This proposes three different ideas. "The Incredible Bulk" says our universe is a 3D brane moving through a 4D bulk. "Time's Arrow" says there is no reason time has to run the way it does, and also that new universes may still be popping out. "The Nows Have It" says that time does not exist; what does exist is a set of instants that we piece together as a timestream.
"The Itch" by Atul Gawande (The New Yorker) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-076: I skipped this one because Mark said it was somewhat gross and disgusting.
"Last of the Neanderthals" by Stephen S. Hall (National Geographic) http://tinyurl.com/leeper-tbasanw-103: Who were the Neanderthals and what happened to them? [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Music is the pleasure that the human soul encounters from counting without knowing that it is counting. --Gottfried Leibniz
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