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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/25/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 48, Whole Number 1703
Table of Contents
Mark Leeper's Top Ten Lists:
Mark just recently compiled a list of all his "Top Ten of the Year" films for the last 25 years. The compilation (just titles) is available at:
The compilation with mini-reviews of most of the films is available at:
Statistical Titanic (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is a scene at the end of the movie TITANIC in which the crewman on a rescue rowboat is looking for survivors among many bodies floating in the water. Suddenly he hears a whistle. If he knew anything at all about statistics he probably would have realized that one whistle had to be a sampling error. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in June (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Okay, time for my June recommendations for Turner Classic Movies
For June there were not enough obscure goodies to forge an entire article recommending. I want, however, this month to call attention to Turner's nice practice of having themed blocks of film. Record then and you can have several nights of festival of films of a given theme. The Turner people will decide that for June 6th they will just show the diversity of early sound horror films. For twelve hours they will just show horror films from 1931 to 1935. But they will not just show Universal's entries which would have been really easy will take films from several different studios and show only the good stuff. And at the very least they will show good prints. I do not recommend sitting through the whole block as it is broadcast even if there are breaks between films.
(Incidentally, all times listed are Eastern time zone.)
6 Wednesday Early Sound Horror Films 6:00 AM Frankenstein (1931) 7:15 AM Doctor X (1932) 8:45 AM Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1932) 10:30 AM Freaks (1932) 11:45 AM The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932) 1:00 PM Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) 2:15 PM Island of Lost Souls (1933) 3:30 PM Mad Love (1935) 4:45 PM Mark Of The Vampire (1935) 6:00 PM The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Back when I was in college there was a triple feature playing around the country. It proclaimed, "Let the Superstars of Shock Take You on a Triple Trip to Where Horror Began!" The three films were DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1932), THE MASK OF FU MANCHU, and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. In spite of the inaccuracy of the tagline I thought to see these three classics for one ticket was pretty good. Of course, here is TCM beating that triple feature all-hollow. This is those three films and a lot more. If you record in one day you can add to your collection ten of the best from that time. For this listing I am including HUNCHBACK, but I am not sure whether it was intended to be part of the block. It was, after all, four years after MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. The only really good example that is missing will play on TCM two days later. That is, of course, THE BLACK CAT (1934). Of course I already had copies of all of them, but it still is a great set of films. It is a ready-made collection of the best of early sound horror.
8 Friday Dark Houses 8:00 PM The Spiral Staircase (1945) 9:30 PM The Innocents (1961) 11:15 PM The Black Cat (1934) 12:30 AM Gaslight (1940) 2:00 AM The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1977)
Again, I am not sure if the last film is intended to be in the block, and I have not see it (yet). But the first four films seem to be horror in films where the house becomes almost a character.
15 Friday The Foundations of Toho Science Fiction 8:00 PM Gojira (1954) 9:30 PM Rodan (1957) 11:00 PM Mothra (1962) 1:00 AM H-Man (1958) 2:30 AM Hausu (1977)
Speaking of starting collections, if you want the best of early Toho science fiction, you have it here. GOJIRA (GODZILLA) is probably the most influential Japanese film ever made. It created a real international market for Japanese fantastic films. It spawned all the Japanese Kaiju (giant monster) films. The first three films each features a giant monster that would be popular in it and later films. H-MAN is science fiction mixed with crime drama with a very different idea for a monster. Once again the last film in what appears to be a block is not. Toho's HAUSU (which means HOUSE) is a bit like CABIN IN THE WOODS. It looks like it is going to be a very cliche´d horror film and then turns into something very different. And you know from the beginning the style is strange. This one eventually immerses the viewer in surrealism in a haunted house and it is anything but obvious what the director is doing. This is a very bizarre film. I cannot promise the reader will like the film, but it will not be like much he has seen before.
22 Friday Directed by Billy Wilder 8:00 AM The Seven Year Itch (1955) 10:00 AM Love In The Afternoon (1957) 12:15 PM The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) 2:45 PM Some Like It Hot (1959) 5:00 PM The Apartment (1960)
These are five films directed by Billy Wilder. He does some very funny comedies, often very dark in tone. Usually there is a European. A frequent theme is how sex drives men to weird or even extremes. I think his strongest film is ACE IN THE HOLE (which TCM is not showing), but his second best is probably THE APARTMENT. There is no doubt that his most popular film is SOME LIKE IT HOT. THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS is one of his rare films that just does not work. He was the wrong director and James Stewart was too old to play Charles Lindbergh.
28 Thursday 1960s Science Fiction 6:00 AM The Time Machine (1960) 8:00 AM Village Of The Damned (1960) 9:30 AM The Manster (1962) 10:45 AM The Snow Devils (1965) 12:30 PM War of the Planets (1965) 2:15 PM Wild, Wild Planet (1965) 4:00 PM Five Million Years To Earth (1968) 5:45 PM Green Slime (1969)
I guess this is just a mixed bag of 1960s science fiction films. Well, you could pick a much worse decade for science fiction films. This lists demonstrates that American and British SF film really were maturing in the 1960s. The British and American films have some sophistication. The Japanese films are THE MANSTER and GREEN SLIME (the latter trying hard to hide its Japanese origins). THE MANSTER involves an American journalist who is the victim of a Japanese mad scientist who is trying to make him fission like an ameba, starting with a second head growing out of his shoulder. GREEN SLIME is better known because the title got people's attention. It is set in space and has the explorers attacked by cute little aliens who generate electricity like eels do but worse. The three 1965 film are Italian space operas that form a series (though are being shown out of order). Antonio Margheriti directed all though for one film he used the pseudonym Anthony Dawson. Oddly the Japanese produced GREEN SLIME is supposed to be in the same series. If I were to pick one film for you it would be FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH--no contest. This is QUATERMASS AND THE PIT with an American title, and I consider it the best science fiction ever made. There are more engaging ideas in this film than I could list here.
[Note: Margheriti's pseudonym Anthony Dawson should not be confused with fine English character actor Anthony Dawson, whose villainous face was his fortune. He played a very nasty nobleman at the beginning of CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and a man coerced to murder in DIAL M FOR MURDER. Though his face was unseen he was also Ernst Stavro Blofeld in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and THUNDERBALL.] [-mrl]
Free College Courses (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In my reading column in this issue I talk about two courses I listened to about Virgil's AENEID. Back in the 12/03/10 issue of the MT VOID, I talked about some of the differences between the Teaching Company course and the UC Berkeley course on ancient Rome. Basically, the former was self-contained, while the latter assumed that you have done all sorts of readings outside of class and were attending weekly discussion sections in addition to the lectures.
For THE AENEID, I listened to the Teaching Company source, taught by Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver, and a Stanford course for adult students, taught by Susanna Braund. In this case, I found the Stanford course much more informative than the UCB on Rome course had been, and in fact probably better than the Teaching Company course on THE AENEID. First of all, I actually read THE AENEID. Second, the Stanford course was a two-hour lecture once a week with no additional discussion sections, so I got the entire content of the course. And third, the professor for this course was better than the professor of the UCB course. The latter spent a lot of time on diversions and procedural minutiae (re-arrangements of schedule, discussion of questions on exams, telling people where to get copies of the handouts, etc.), while Braund pretty much stuck to the subject. And while the Teaching Company course is very good, it is only six hours long, while the UCB course is twelve hours long.
The biggest problem with the Stanford course is that it is available only through iTunes U. I do not know what I am doing wrong, but every time I download something from iTunes U to my iPod, it disappears. If it is in a playlist, it is visible there until I remove it--but that removes it only from the playlist. But it is still occupying space on the iPod. It is not in Music, it is not in Books, it is not in Podcasts, ... it is not anywhere accessible. The only way to clear it off is to reset the iPod to its factory settings and then reload everything that was on it.
The fact they they are not entirely self-contained is, ironically, also one of the advantages of the non-Teaching Company courses. Because they are (usually) longer, and also not committed to being so self-contained, the professors can recommend other books, movies, TV shows, and so on, that the Teaching Company audience is not as receptive to following up on. (The major marketing strategy of the Teaching Company is that you can get an education just by listening to their courses while commuting, exercising, or whatever.) [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This column is devoted to books about or connected to Virgil's AENEID, Troy, and the Trojans.
SCHLIEMANN OF TROY: TREASURE AND DECEIT by David A. Traill (ISBN 978-0-312-15647-2) begins with a brief paragraph about Schliemann:
"When he was eight years old he was captivated by the stories of the Trojan War and resolved that one day he would excavate Troy. He devoted the early part of his life to commerce in order to earn enough money to be able to realize his childhood dream. At last, in his mid-forties he went to Paris to study archaeology. On a trip to the plain of Troy in 1868 he reached, on the mound of Hisarlik, the historic decision that here, not at Bunarbashi (Pinarbashi), as most scholars then believed, was the site of Homer's Troy. Soon after this he set about proving his theory by the evidence of his spade--the first seeker of Troy to take this practical step. His theory received dramatic confirmation at the end of May 1873, when, with the help of his wife Sophia, he discovered a large treasure on the city wall. which he called "Priam's Treasure". In 1876 at Mycenae, again with the help of his wife, Schliemann excavated gold masks and masses of other jewelry from the mud of the Shaft Graves. In one of the graves he found a mummy wearing a gold mask, which he ripped off and, finding the remains of a human face underneath, telegraphed the King of Greece. 'I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon,' he said. The gold mask he called the 'Mask of Agamemnon' and it is still known by that name."
Traill then says, "Recent research ... has shown that every statement in the preceding statement is false." For example, his wife was not with him at either of the mentioned finds, the treasure was found outside the wall, not in it, and the treasure almost definitely included pieces found elsewhere or even manufactured to make the find more dramatic.
SCHLIEMANN OF TROY is an odd combination--on the one hand it attempts to be a biography of Schliemann and a record of his archaeological efforts, but on the other it is an effort to discredit almost everything he said or claimed. The two do not blend well; I can't help but feel that it would be better either as a straight biography, revealing but not dwelling on the discrepancies, thefts, and falsifications, or as a monograph detailing the discrepancies et al without attempting to write a full biography.
I read THE AENEID by Virgil (translated by Robert Fitzgerald) (ISBN 978-0-679-72952-5) in conjunction with two audio courses: one taught by Dr. Susanna Braund at Stanford in six two-hour sessions available as podcasts, and one by Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver at the Teaching Company in twelve thirty-minute sessions.
One of the things Braund covered that Vandiver did not was the variation among English translations of THE AENEID. For example, Braund thought that John Dryden's was the most poetic in its own right. William Morris's was unusual in that he avoided Latinate words; here are the opening few lines:
I sing of arms, I sing of him, who from the Trojan land Thrust forth by Fate, to Italy and that Lavinian strand First came: all tost about was he on earth and on the deep By heavenly might for Juno's wrath, that had no mind to sleep: And plenteous war he underwent ere he his town might frame And set his Gods in Latian earth, whence is the Latin name, And father-folk of Alba-town, and walls of mighty Rome.
As Braund notes, the use of Anglo-Saxon words such as "father-folk" (rather than the Latinate "ancestors") makes it sound more like Tolkien than like Virgil, though one has to respect Morris's reasoning. Morris felt that just as Virgil wrote for his Latin audience in a sort of "pure" Latin, without using all sorts of Greek-derived words, so should he write for his English audience in a sort of "pure" English, without using all sorts of Latin-derived words. (One is reminded of Poul Anderson's wonderful "Uncleftish Beholding".)
A few odds and ends:
The word "fatum", usually translated as "fate", literally means "what has been spoken". In that sense one could consider it the definition of a performative (e.g., "I promise", "I declare this bridge open", etc.). There are echoes throughout other epics as well. In THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Pharaoh repeatedly sayd, "So let it be written, so let it be done." In LAWRENCE OF ARABIA they constantly speak of "what is written" (or, "for some men, truly nothing is written"). But it is somewhat ambiguous: sometimes it seems to be what Jupiter (Zeus) has decreed, but other times Jupiter speaks of fate as being something external to him that he does not control.
There are a lot of Homeric parallels: the flashback related by the hero, Cassandra and Laocoon as prophets who are not believed, the visit to the underworld (including the same sorts of shades met), a profusion of similes, and a lot of epic tropes in general. There are also anachronisms, e.g., Aeneas flees with his household gods, but household gods are a Roman concept, not a Trojan or Greek one. (And you thought that this was true only of modern movies!)
One can also see where Dante got his inspiration for Virgil as his guide through the (Christian) underworld--and in fact Dante's Inferno bears more than just a little resemblance to Virgil's Tartarus, including various circles where different types of sins are punished.
In Book V's description of the games, you get some notion of the place of women in ancient society when you read that in a race, the first prize was an embroidered cloak, the second was a shirt of chain mail, the third was two cauldrons, and the fourth was a slave woman and her two children. (For that matter, while Dido gets a lot of attention, after Aeneas's first wife Creusa is rather summarily disposed of in the Sack of Troy, we never hear of her again. When Aeneas goes down to the underworld, he sees and speaks to Dido, but no mention is made of Creusa.
Before Aeneas goes down to the underworld, he is told that he must pluck a golden bough from a certain tree. If the gods are willing that he make the journey, the branch will come away easily, but if they are not, no amount of human strength could break it off. This certainly sounds like an inspiration for Arthur's sword in the stone (and with Roman expansion into Britain after Virgil's writing, it is certainly possible that the Britons were aware of the legend).
And when Aeneas asked about how to get in to the underworld, the Cumaean Sybil tells him (in William Morris's translation):
"Man of Troy, from blood of Godhead grown, Anchises' child, Avernus's road is easy faring down; All day and night is open wide the door of Dis the black; But thence to gain the upper air, and win the footsteps back This is the deed, this is the toil: Some few have had the might, Beloved by Jove the Just, upborne to heaven by valour's light, The Sons of God."
This reminds me of the exchange in Henry IV, Part I:
Glendower: "I can call spirits from the vasty deep." Hotspur: "Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?"
Aeneas is the son of the goddess Venus and the mortal Anchises. When Aeneas needs a shield, Venus goes to her husband, Vulcan, and convinces him to make a shield. Does anyone else think there is something strange about this: " Oh, sweetie, please make a shield for my illegitmate son that I had when I cheated on you with Anchises." "Sure thing, honey."
Scholars say that Virgil left THE AENEID unfinished, and they point to two pieces of evidence. One piece is the incomplete lines--the sentences are complete as they are, but some syllables are lacking for the meter. The other is various inconsistencies. These are not anachronisms (like the household gods mentioned earlier), but things like having Ascanius's age. He was at least two years old at the Sack of Troy. Seven years later, in Carthage, he seems to be only about six or seven years old. Then in Latinum (maybe a year or two after Carthage) he is old enough to be a leader and a soldier during the fighting there. The Fury Alecto predicted that the Trojans would "eat their tables"; later this prophecy was attributed to Anchises. Palinurus fell into the sea either because he fell asleep or because the rudder broke off. And so on.
(Many of these observations were triggered by or discussed in the two courses I followed.)
THE SEVEN SISTERS by Margaret Drabble (ISBN 978-0-15-100740-0) was recommended by Dr. Braund during her Aeneid lectures for Stanford. That's one advantage of the non-Teaching Company courses. Because they are (usually) longer, and also not committed to being so self- contained, the professors can recommend other books, movies, TV shows, and so on, that the Teaching Company audience is not as receptive to following up on. (The major marketing strategy of the Teaching Company is that you can get an education just by listening to their courses while commuting, exercising, or whatever.)
Anyway, THE SEVEN SISTERS is about Candida Wilton, a divorcee in London who was part of an adult education class on Virgil. The class is canceled when the building is converted into a fitness center, but when Candida gets an unexpected windfall, she convinces the teacher, two other students, and two friends to join her on a "Virgil" tour of Carthage (Tunisia) and Italy. Most of the novel is about the same sorts of things that most modern novels are, but there is a lot of Virgil in it as well. There are many references that readers unfamiliar with Virgil will not understand. (For example, the pilot ship for the ferry is named "Ascanius", and Candida talks about how she doesn't have a Golden Bough to take to the Cumaean Sybil.) In fact, the only parts of the book I enjoyed were the Virgilian references. On the other hand, I can see how this is probably popular as a "woman's book" and with book discussion groups. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. --H. L. MenckenTweet
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