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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/05/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 6, Whole Number 1661
Table of Contents
This week's MT VOID is a day early because we will be without Internet access on its normal publication date.
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
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 25 (Thu): THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 edited by Elizabeth Kolbert, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 8 (Thu): TBD, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion after film September 22 (Thu): THE HACKER AND THE ANTS by Rudy Rucker, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
What Does Lightning Look Like in Slow Motion?:
Inter-Discipline Question (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1, preparing to see the second part. Toward the end we get to see the symbol of the Deathly Hallows as it appears in a signature and as it is rendered in a piece of jewelry. In the jewelry the cloak is an equilateral triangle. In the signature it is an isosceles right triangle sitting with its hypotenuse as the base. If the radius of the circle is r, what is the length of the wand in jewelry and what is it in the signature? Assume all lines are infinitesimally thin. Okay, I will let you cheat on the cinema knowledge part of the puzzle. You can see the symbol at
[Note: all times given are Eastern Daylight Time.]
We are moving quickly through the summer, and it is time for me to take a look at the August schedule on Turner Classic Movies and choose what I consider the most interesting films. I have recently talked to a kid of high school age who called himself a real film buff. He likes all kinds of films, he said. Okay, that does impress me at least a little. Let's give him two points. The guy must know something about cinema. I pointed out that SEVEN DAYS IN MAY was going to be on TV soon. Well, he said, he likes all kinds of films, *but* he really is not keen on black-and-white films. Oops! I take back my two points and three more. Some--probably most--of the greatest films of all times have been in black-and- white. Well, I hope this guy has kids who also consider themselves big film buffs who like all kinds of films, but nothing in 2D. They will be only interested in 3D films. That day might well come. Well, all of the films I will recommend this month are black-and-white. Not only that they are all silent films.
As they are frequently wont to do, Turner is taking days and devoting each to the films of one actor. Monday, August 15, all day from 6AM Monday to 6AM Tuesday TCM will feature films starring Lon Chaney, Sr., the first great horror star. (The only arguably better horror actor of the time was Conrad Veidt. He is also getting his day Tuesday, August 16, all day from 6AM Tuesday to 6AM Wednesday.) The films chosen are a mix of straight dramas and of horror films. And the final five films are collaborations with director Tod Browning. These films include the silent THE UNHOLY THREE (1925), WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928), and the Turner reconstruction of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). THE UNHOLY THREE is basically a crime melodrama with a gimmick. The point of interest is that is was remade just five years later because sound had come in. Lon Chaney played the same role in both films and the remake, directed by Jack Conway, was the only film in which Chaney spoke. Both versions will be shown in during the Lon Chaney marathon. I reviewed WEST OF ZANZIBAR in 1993 and that review can be found below.
Also being shown is the Turner reconstruction of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. The film is lost, the only known copy burning in a fire back in the 1960s, but enough still photos survive as does the script so that Turner could piece together something like a reconstruction complete enough to follow the story. Forrest J. Ackerman told me that he thought that if the film ever were found it would be a disappointment. It could not possibly live up to its reputation. For one thing, as a vampire Chaney walks around in a Groucho Marx posture, Ackerman said, and it would look silly today. Personally, I am only neutral toward its remake, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) with Bela Lugosi.
And for those with a taste for more silent horror, Turner is also showing two great films from silent film director Robert Weine. One is the father of all horror films and the film that spawned the German Expressionist film movement, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919). They will also show the first film adaptation of Maurice Renard's HANDS OF ORLAK (1924). Both films were directed by Weine and starred silent film's other great horror actor Conrad Veidt. A review of HANDS OF ORLAK can also be found below.
Here is the schedule of Chaney and Veidt films:
Monday August 15 (Lon Chaney films not directed by Tod Browning) 6:00 AM Ace of Hearts, The (1921) 7:30 AM Unholy Three, The (1930) 9:00 AM Oliver Twist (1922) 11:00 AM He Who Gets Slapped (1924) 12:15 PM Monster, The (1925) 1:45 PM Tell It To The Marines (1926) 3:30 PM Mockery (1927) 4:45 PM Mr. Wu (1927) 6:30 PM Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) 8:00 PM Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1923) 10:00 PM Phantom of the Opera, The (1925) Tuesday, August 16 (Lon Chaney films directed by Tod Browning) 12:00 AM Unholy Three, The (1925) 1:30 AM Unknown, The (1927) 2:30 AM West of Zanzibar (1928) 3:45 AM Where East Is East (1929) 5:00 AM London After Midnight (1927) Wednesday, August 24 Conrad Veidt films 6:00 AM Above Suspicion (1943) 7:45 AM Contraband (1940) 9:30 AM All Through The Night (1942) 11:30 AM Jew Suss (1934) 1:15 PM Spy In Black, The (1939) 2:45 PM Whistling In The Dark (1941) 4:15 PM Escape (1940) 6:00 PM Woman's Face, A (1941) 8:00 PM Hands of Orlac, The (1925) (directed by Robert Wiene) 9:45 PM Thief of Bagdad, The (1940) 11:45 PM Casablanca (1942) Thursday, August 25 More Conrad Veidt films 1:45 AM Nazi Agent (1942) 3:15 AM Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, The (1919) (directed by Robert Wiene) 4:30 AM Dark Journey (1937)
Reviews of the two films may be found below. [-mrl]
Films As Fables (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
There is an interesting genre of films which I call "fables" (although "magical realism" might be appropriate for at least some of them). What do I mean by a fable? It's a story which is just slightly askew--everything is heightened and intensified. And there is usually a magical character (leprechaun, genii, fairy godmother, etc.) who carries the story along. Three excellent ones come to mind; I'd love to hear of more.
The best known of the three is THE INVENTION OF LYING, where everything is the same as our world, except there is no lying-- until Ricky Gervais invents it. In general I find the characters that Ricky Gervais plays too annoying to watch, but here he plays it more or less straight and is very good.
A lesser-known one is JOE VS. THE VOLCANO, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. (I know--it's hard to believe there is a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film as little-known as this one. In all the Tom Hanks retrospectives, it just gets skipped.) As I said, everything here is just slightly intensified. Joe's job is just a tad too depressing, the people he meets are all a bit over the top (of whatever their personality is), the coincidences are a bit too unlikely, and so on.
And the last is INTERSTATE 60. Again, everything is just a bit magnified, a bit stronger, a bit stranger. This is harder to describe than the other two; let's just say it is a very strange road trip movie.
In written fiction, these might also be called slipstream, though that term is probably even less defined than fable or magical realism. But whatever they are, one aspect seems to be that they do not get much attention. I suppose the problem is that they are "weird" enough to turn off the mainstream crowd, but not fantastical enough to be marketed to the fantasy crowd. In any case, these are three little-known films you should seek out. [-ecl]
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The final Harry Potter film has Harry and friends searching out the last of the Voldemort Horcruxes for his final confrontation with Voldemort. If you don't know what I just said I recommend you bail out right now. The last Harry Potter film is a very substantial fantasy film, perhaps even beyond the level of one of the LORD OF THE RINGS films. With one major omission the series comes to a satisfying and frequently spectacular conclusion. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Someone asked the question, "I have not seen any of the previous Harry Potter films and not read the books. However I hear that the last half of the last story is really very good. Will I get anything out of seeing just the last film?" I can answer with a resounding "No." One virtue a film may or may not have is that it stands by itself. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 completely lacks this virtue. I have seen *all* the Harry Potter films and read the first book. But I have a poor memory for technical terms and invented names. Last year I saw PART 1 and sat watching it very much lost. So in order to enjoy PART 2, I watched PART 1 on DVD the previous day and followed the plot in Wikipedia, frequently stopping and following links to figure out who such-and- such is and what this-and-that is. It helped a lot, but I am not sure I always understood what was being said. Take with a grain of salt any factual statement in this review that slips out about the plot.
The Harry Potter books adapted to the screen has constituted a massive effort over a decade amassing something in the range of twenty hours of filmed story, considerably longer than the total of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. The Potter series has been British drama's equivalent of the space program. Of major British or Irish actors everyone but Sean Bean is in the film someplace. (Perhaps Sean wasn't checking his phone messages.) While the series started out as a series of children's books, the character of Potter, the sophistication of the stories, the books' readership, and the films all grew up together. In the latest film Potter is quite acceptable as an adult film hero. The problems he, Hermione, and Ron are working out are on an adult level. Many are problems bred of fantasy situations, yes, but many are the sort of interpersonal problems that would keep adults interested. Harry is old enough that he can credibly handle adult problems. Early in the series one had the feeling that the problems that Harry faced were stacked to fall apart easily. The rules of Quidditch seemed contrived so that it would be easy for a freshman to come in and immediately become a most valuable player. Not that it really helped the series to have the hero be an incidental sport hero. In the new film Harry has some really complex and difficult tasks.
There are some problems in the story. The very biggest is that this should have been--among other things--Voldemort's film. This is the final confrontation between Harry and the evil lord. This was where we could expect to learn what Voldemort's story was. Why was he this incarnation of evil? What made him this way? What was his goal? In short, what is his motivation? Instead we leave the series never knowing the wizard who is perhaps the most important character in the series. Through eight films he is the reason why everybody is doing what they are doing. So who is this Voldemort? Minor spoiler: I still don't know. On the other hand, we learn considerably more about the motivations of the perennial red herring Severus Snape who at last becomes a character of some interest. Speaking of things I still do not know, most of my memories of Hogwart's are of the hallways choked with young magicians and stairwells that disintegrate and reintegrate as needed. At Hogwart's you seem to see the staff and only one class of students. It is almost like they admit students of about the same age, and then wait until they are all adults before bringing in the next batch. The fighting we see in this film might have had a very different tenor if there were young students running around. We are never told where all the current students are. In the last few episodes there has been the suggestion that Hermione and Ron are a bit of a number. This is true in spite of the fact that they seem to have no screen chemistry together. What does Hermione see in Ron? I still don't know.
David Yates, who directed the three previous Potter films, again directs. He is largely known for his television work but is doing good things for the Potter series. The production work, designed by Stuart Craig who has created the look of all the Potter films as well as films like THE ENGLISH PATIENT and SHADOWLANDS, has a quality finish to it. Cinematography is by Eduardo Serra who specializes in half-lighting as in the forest in DEFIANCE and the beautiful work he did for THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING. An expert in handling half-light is extremely important for this film as the film had conflicting requirements. Because of the dark tone of the story it needed screen images to match. At the same time it had to be releasable in high-quality 3D. 3D does not do well with dark scenes. The glasses make it look murky. I will not say that it was not a problem with PART 2, but it generally was well handled.
The loose ends of the Harry Potter series finally knit together in a spectacular and at times profound conclusion the series that involves and resurrects just about every important character in the previous films. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 requires familiarity with the people and things of the series, but it will satisfy most of the fans, or at least those who do not care to know much about Voldemort. In any case, I rate the film a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1201607/
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-rt-potter-dh2 >P? [-mrl]
WEST OF ZANZIBAR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review first appeared in the MT VOID 07/16/93.]
Most people who are fans of horror films--and who know a little something of the history of the horror film--respect the name of Lon Chaney. Chaney is the best-remembered horror actor of the silent era, at least for his silent work. (Karloff, of course, had his share of horror parts in the silent era, but he is remembered much more for his sound roles.) Chaney is the American horror actor most associated with the silent era. But oddly, his current reputation is based for all but a few horror fans on only two roles and a few stills from other films. It is relatively easy to find opportunity to see THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). But how many of us have seen SHADOWS (1922), A BLIND BARGAIN (1922), THE TRAP (1922), or THE SHOCK (1923)? Films like LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927) appear to be totally lost. Most of his other roles require some effort to find. Resurrected for Turner cable television is one of his more interesting efforts, Tod Browning's WEST OF ZANZIBAR.
Browning is best remembered as the director of the 1930 film DRACULA, and is a bit less well-remembered for FREAKS (1932), but he has a number of interesting films to his credit. He did several previous films with Chaney including THE UNHOLY THREE (1925), THE BLACKBIRD (1926), THE ROAD TO MANDALAY (1926), and the lost and legendary LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). He is also remembered for three sound era films: DRACULA of course, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, his 1935 remake of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore, and his 1936 DEVIL DOLL, again with Barrymore.
The story of WEST OF ZANZIBAR opens in a London music hall. Phroso the Magician (played by Chaney) is a popular attraction, particularly when he performs the illusion of turning a skeleton into his beautiful wife. However, his wife is more interested in Crane, an ivory trader played by a young and handsome Lionel Barrymore. Phroso gets into a fight with Crane only to have his back broken. The magician has lost both his wife and the use of his legs in one evening. Some years later, Phroso's wife returns from Africa, dying and with Crane's baby. Phroso decides to take revenge on Crane and his daughter. Flash forward eighteen years and Phroso is no more, but in his place is the vengeful mystery man called Dead-Legs. In a cannibal village in the title location, Dead-Legs is hatching a plot to destroy Crane. Using his stage magic to control the superstitious natives, he has Crane's daughter brought to his jungle outpost. There he begins to exact his revenge.
Admittedly, WEST OF ZANZIBAR has a plot that is a bit simplistic and the twists in that plot telegraph themselves well in advance of actually occurring. This makes it difficult to say this is actually a good film by modern standards. But the macabre jungle melodrama is told with more than a little style and the resulting film is surprisingly enjoyable as an artifact.
We see here two of Chaney's claimed thousand faces. Phroso the Magician's stage make-up is obviously played for a laugh, with Chaney even borrowing a gesture or two from Charlie Chaplin. Out of the stage make-up he looks very normal. But Dead-Legs is something very different, something reptilian. His head is shaved so he looks nearly hairless. Out of his wheelchair, he slithers his way lizard- like across the floor not unlike a serpent. [-mrl]
THE HANDS OF ORLAC (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review first appeared in the MT VOID 07/16/93; another review appeared in the 09/26/08 issue.]
It is one of the unfortunate characteristics of film that visual images slow down the story-telling. It takes the camera a lot longer to show you images that can be described in less time. Of course, to describe a scene fully one picture is worth a thousand words, but rarely is it necessarily to describe a scene fully in telling a story. Silent film is even slower at telling a story, since a much higher proportion of the story is told by visual images. For this reason, silent films will often be more simple stories than sound films of equivalent length, though they can be just as much or even more atmospheric. The whole story of THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924) could well be told in six or seven sentences-- including plot twists I will not reveal.
THE HANDS OF ORLAC reunites THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI director and its star. Robert Weine directs the vastly under-appreciated horror actor Conrad Veidt in this adaptation of Maurice Renard's novel. The story should be familiar to any who have seen the three other film versions including MAD LOVE (1935), HANDS OF ORLAC (a.k.a. HANDS OF A STRANGLER) (1960), and HANDS OF A STRANGER (1962). Paul Orlac is a great concert pianist who loses his own hands in a train wreck. In their place, a surgeon grafts the hands of a guillotined knife murderer, Vasseur. To Orlac's horror the hands seem to desire to return to their career of crime. It is an idea that would be used many times in film, but this was the first and perhaps the most stylish use of the idea.
Under Weine's direction, Veidt's acting is very effective as a man almost being dragged around by his own hands. Veidt's face shows increasing madness as the film progresses. Perhaps the most effective image of the film shows a crazed Veidt, a mad look on his face, as his half-clenched hand, filmed in the foreground, seems to be leading or even dragging him. Beyond this the film has a gratuitously Gothic feel, the camera making much of taking place in a cavernous old house with its huge bullet-shaped doorways. It is a style that would later be imitated by Universal Studios in their 30s horror cycle.
More could be done with this story, as Karl Freund's MAD LOVE would prove. Still, the film has enough of its share of effective images to make it worth seeking out. [-mrl]
COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel): In response to Mark's comments on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT in the 07/22/11 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel wrote:
I'm looking forward to the rest of Mark's reassessment of COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT and am hoping he'll address what I consider one of the major issues of the film. When I teach SF film and show it, it usually disturbs the class because the day *isn't* saved. It's an unusual Hollywood film that ends on a down note. So I then ask the students whether Colossus has, indeed, failed? What was it programmed to do? Prevent war and keep America safe. Isn't that exactly what it has done? Hasn't it *fulfilled* its task? This is not like HAL going crazy (so to speak) in "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY." This is a computer doing what it was designed to do with unexpected consequences. [-dk]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE 101 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE WHO NEVER LIVED: HOW CHARACTERS OF FICTION, MYTH, LEGENDS, TELEVISION, AND MOVIES HAVE SHAPED OUR SOCIETY, CHANGED OUR BEHAVIOR, AND SET THE COURSE OF HISTORY by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan & Jeremy Salter (ISBN 978-0-061-13221-6) has an interesting premise, but does not quite follow through. A more accurate title might be "The 101 Most Recognized People Who Never Lived". Helen of Troy is certainly widely known, but how much has she influenced society? Buck is even less influential-- and not even a person. (He is the dog in Jack London's CALL OF THE WILD.)
Lazar claims the authors "dropped all of the essays [they] had written about religious characters, and then includes The Wandering Jew, Lilith, and several Greek and Roman gods. He claims to have "cut out all the real people except Siegfried, Saint Nick, and King Arthur," but then includes Saint Valentine and Smokey Bear (another non-person). They also include HAL 9000. In short, it is a very subjective list of 101 entities, most of which are fictional, some of which are real people, and some of which are not even people. This is more accurately a set of essays about cultural icons, and a fairly superficial one at that.
For example, they claim the first series of Godzilla movies ran from 1962 to 1989 and the second series from 1991 to 1995, and that "several Godzilla movies [were] made in the United States in the 1990s. The first series ends in 1975, the second runs from 1984 to 1995, the third series runs from 1999 to 2004, and only one Godzilla movie was made in the United States (in 1998). And the list of cultural influences of The Wandering Jew does not list A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ. (They also comment, "The United States has never had a president or vice-president or secretary of state Joe," but the book was written in 2006, so this is understandable.)
However, Lazar et al's comments on Cinderella are very much in line with Mark's comments in the 07/08/11 issue of the MT VOID. They write, "[A] fairy godmother provides her with elegant clothes so that she can attract the eye of the prince, who happens to be looking for a girl to marry. Decked out in her finery, Cinderella gets his attention at a ball where she is nothing but a clotheshorse. She has earned nothing. She deserves nothing, except perhaps back wages at home. And yet, she gets the prince to marry her. This is not the lesson we should teach our children. There are more important values than good looks, fine clothes, and expensive trappings--intelligence, independence, self-esteem, responsibility, and self-motivation--none of which characterize Cinderella. Let's drop the Cinderella mentality and introduce our children to the genuine values in life--namely, they have to earn their rewards." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is. - John von Neumann
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