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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 11/23/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 21, Whole Number 1729
Table of Contents
History of Cinema on One Graphic Chart (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is pretty cool. It is a history of the titles of all the major films by category across a hundred years of cinema history. You can zoom in on the graphic and see the major films by year. It seems to have the British titles of the films.
The Truth Comes Out (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We are arranging a trip to Costa Rica. The tour company sends out literature that talks about butterfly forests and live volcanoes. It sounds really good. So we signed up and once they have us their tone changes entirely. Now they are sending out fine-print brochures with paragraphs titled "Emergency Evacuation", "Repatriation of Remains", and "Accidental Death and Dismemberment"--"or" would be bad enough. [-mrl]
Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Back in the 1970s Bob Wilkins was the horror film host in the San Francisco area. He displayed a sign that said "Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong." Sadly he did not live long enough to learn that there really are health benefits to watching horror films. It can counter a high-calorie diet.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Some of our prehistoric ancestors had a taste for horror stories sitting around the fire. Others got scared and ran away to hide in the cave until the stories were over. The fire sitters got little educations in what the night boogies could do to you and had thought about how to avoid them. The cave quaverers were unprepared and the night boogies got them. The horror fans lived to pass their genes on to the next generation. [-mrl]
Storm Diary, Part 3 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[Continued from last week, written in the present tense, but by the time you read this, we have had power restored, etc.]
As I write this, we are still trapped in our house with no refuge after sundown. During the day we can go to restaurants, some of which have opened. But at night we return to a cold and dark house.
Late Wednesday, 10/31/12
With no power there is no heat. The house ranges between 60 and 62 degrees. It probably will get colder with time. Even around the house I wear a scarf around my neck. I am wearing regular underwear, thermal underwear, a pair of pants, a shirt, two pullover wool sweaters, and a pair of jeans over the pants. Going to the bathroom is like digging for gold.
We did some exploration by car. There are a lot of damaged trees. No restaurants are open that we saw but two local grocery stores, Shoprite and Stop & Shop have tentatively opened. It is unclear for how long, but they want to sell their current stock. They lost a lot of money in spoiled food after Hurricane Irene and they probably install generators just so they could preserve what they had on hand for sale.
The roads are a little hard to drive. There is no power for traffic lights. Some intersections have been made ad hoc four-way stops. In other places orange traffic cones block some streets and send people on detours. Some of these detours are not well thought-out. They tell you where you cannot go but not how to get where you want to go. It is not always obvious.
We told several neighbors that the grocery was open. How long that will be the case is not obvious. Here we are Paul Revere and Mrs. Revere. One guy said that he had been to Shop-Rite and there was a big bin of AA and AAA batteries. We informed him the bin was now an empty box.
Lunch is restaurant leftovers from before the storm. The food is not great, but we are not going hungry. We were fairly well prepared for the storm. We are using a lot of AA batteries, but we had just bought a 48-pack from Costco and we have needed about six so far. We have a lot of canned goods that can be eaten as they come out of the can. We also have more than 150 candles and they last about four hours. And we have ten or fifteen flashlights of various kinds.
It is useful to have a flashlight with a flat bottom that you can stand vertically. If you stand it up pointing at the ceiling it lights the whole room like a lantern. For us that is most useful in the bathroom. That room is completely enclosed and if you close the door--as it is my habit to do--it is nearly pitch black. A lantern that lights up the room keeps it smelling fresh. I don't want it to smell like Green Lantern's bathroom. (For those who did not read the comic, Green Lantern was a superhero who had no control over anything that was yellow.)
Afternoon is working on a letter, this log, some listening to cassettes from a Walkman. Two friends who were headed to New York City told us they passed restaurants open on Route 9. Baby steps, but things are getting better slowly. Now we can get one hot meal every day. But we don't want to do too much driving. We filled our tank before the storm, but now it is very hard to get gasoline with three-hour waits in mile-long queues. There are queues of cars waiting to fill their tanks as you approach the gas station, then in the other direction there are queues of people with gas cans. These lines are not as long, but they also have wait times measured in hours.
Some gas stations are serving only emergency vehicles. Some need the electrical power to be restored to run their pumps. Others have gasoline-powered generators, but that is a very bad idea. In SCARFACE with Al Pacino, the guy's big downfall was when he stopped just selling cocaine and started using it himself. Similarly the gas station owners want to just sell gasoline and not dip into their own supplies.
It still feels cold.
At 6:30 PM we have snacks. Evelyn has Chocolate Mousse. I have Key Lime Mousse. When ice cream whipped with air thaws it goes through a stage when it has the consistency of mousse. It is almost as good as ice cream. This is about as good as home food gets when the power has been out for days.
After dark our biggest enemies are boredom and uncertainty. But the chilly temperature is coming up on the rail.
It is a new month. We rarely see so much bird and squirrel activity in our back yard. They seem to love running around the tree limb. It is like a playground for them.
It was nice to have a warm shower. We have a gas water heater. I have to make it a fast shower, since there is a shortage of water with pumps, etc. running from emergency generators. Another advantage we that have is that we have a landline telephone. That is the old fashioned kind with a copper cable to the wall. Any other kind either depends on cell phone towers or cordless stands that plug in to current. We have no power and still the phone works (as family and friends appreciate).
Things are starting to come back. Today we may have our first hot meal since we lost power. I will continue from here two issues from now. (Next week is my article on TCM picks in December.) [-mrl]
LINCOLN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: With very interesting release timing and with considerable historical accuracy, Stephen Spielberg tells the history of the two great conflicting goals Abraham Lincoln had toward the end of the Civil War. He wanted both to free the slaves and to end the war. Spielberg does not simplify the issues. Much of the film is talk. Spielberg respects his audience's intelligence enough to tell the complex story and maintain a great deal of historical accuracy. The film even looks very accurate to the period. The viewer may have to work hard, but the work is worth the effort. This is a film for an intelligent audience. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
During the United States Civil War the Union had hundreds of thousands of men in the field fighting (whether some realized it or not) for the rights of others. But in the last year a parallel war was being waged in the Union's Congress to determine if that government would emancipate the slaves. That war was fought just as dirty and with nearly as much fury. Steven Spielberg's LINCOLN is a paean to the people who fought for justice for the Southern slaves, a war that was headed, just as the battlefield war was, by Abraham Lincoln.
One can read in high school history books that under Lincoln the 13th Amendment was ratified. One rarely reads about what a hard- fought battle getting it approved was against both the Democrats and members of his own Republican party. Based on a script by Tony Kushner, Spielberg tells with some tension of Lincoln's quest for the twenty additional votes he needed to get the amendment ratified by the House of Representatives. (Curiously, little is made of the fact that it had already been passed by the Senate with what must have been much of the same political wrangling.) Lincoln finds himself in the peculiar position of desperately wanting to end the war, but knowing that if it ends too soon the House of Representatives will never ratify the 13th Amendment. He has to extend a war that he greatly hates. He must balance ending the war with ending slavery. His slow and complex efforts to get the additional votes draw on the same sort of tension that TWELVE ANGRY MEN had. The final count is reminiscent of the film 1776. Frequently when I review a historical film I will have a paragraph or so after the main review telling where the film got the history wrong. All the research I have seen has said that LINCOLN gets the facts fairly close to recorded history.
The look of LINCOLN gives a good impression of what living in 1863 would be like. This means a lot of the film is dimly lit in a manner we expect from film noir, often with the shadow on a face fading into the background. Do not expect bright, saturated colors. Many of the officers in the armies had very big bushy beards that are generally portrayed in films much shorter. Spielberg works hard for great accuracy, and we see some really large beards. This is a smart film but not really a pretty one. Do not expect it to just wash over you like a James Bond chase. It is hard work to follow what is going on. Be ready at the beginning of each scene to listen carefully to what is being said in this dialog-heavy film. And I hope you have a better memory for names than I have. (Don't worry, that would not be difficult.)
Spielberg populates LINCOLN with a very large cast of many popular actors. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln leads the cast. He is not the sort of Lincoln that Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, or Raymond Massey played (and certainly not the Lincoln who was on STAR TREK). This Lincoln fills his conversation with anecdotes and jokes, to the point that he made exchanges with him a little trying. Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer says that Lincoln's voice was probably a little shriller and higher than it has been played. Day-Lewis plays him as a man who could have his mind on several tracks at the same time, hence the self-interruption and his propensity for the quick quip. The film also suggests that his arguments with Mary Todd Lincoln (played by Sally Field) could be fiery and loud.
LINCOLN is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's accounts of the emancipation in her book TEAM OF RIVALS: THE POLITICAL GENIUS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. I imagine that on third or fourth viewing much more of it will be clear. I rate LINCOLN a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Spielberg gives us an account of a lame duck Congress being coerced to work on bi-partisan lines to act for the good of the country. It was released a little too late to affect the voting in the United States election, but it is an account of an embattled Congress eventually doing the right thing. It would be great if our own Congress would do the same thing. LINCOLN is a distant mirror of our own times and politics.
This does seem to be Abraham Lincoln's year of being a hero in the movies with this film following as it does close on the heels of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443272/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/lincoln_2011/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I haven't done as much reading lately, catching up with a lot of post-Sandy stuff instead. I did re-read Robert Sheckley's "A Wind Is Rising", a short story from 1957 which has been reprinted a few times, in Sheckley collections and THE THIRD GALAXY READER. It was also dramatized as an episode of "X Minus One".) The story takes place on Carella I, where a wind of 82 miles an hour is a light breeze, so you can see why I decided to read it after Sandy came through.
I also read THE ENGINES OF NIGHT by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-312- 94141-2). This is a collection of essays written in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a commentary on the state of science fiction and publishing at the time. One of the interesting things is to notice what has changed. For example, Malzberg bemoans the fact that James Tiptree, Jr.'s "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" had appeared only in one anthology and one collection, both out of print at the time of his writing. It now has appeared in the United States in another anthology and another collection, both in print. Indeed, we seem to be in a Golden Age for collections of classic science fiction authors, with the Sheckley story also appearing in collections of his work currently in print.
This is not to say that everything in THE ENGINE OF NIGHT is outdated. The low esteem in which science fiction is held has not changed, and before you point to George R. R. Martin and J. K. Rowling, let me say that there is a difference between science fiction and fantasy. [-ecl]
[You are right; the mainstream does not appreciate science fiction. "The New Yorker" has not had a science fiction issue since May. -mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: This world is gradually becoming a place Where I do not care to be any more. --John BerrymanTweet
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