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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/01/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 18, Whole Number 1778
Table of Contents
The Birthplace of the Cellphone Is Being Turned Into a Mall:
For all the Bell Labbers left from when the MT VOID was actually connected with it, you might find this article interesting, especially the photographs: http://tinyurl.com/void-btl-ho.
Oh, Well! comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We were listening to a history lecture and a famous person was said to "sleep with every woman he could get his hands on." So what? I do that and it doesn't do me any good. [-mrl]
Mini-Review Season comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We are coming to the time of the year when some of the better films are released and we are fast approaching the time when I have to vote on film awards. I will continue to write some full reviews, but I will also write short reviews just to save on writing time and make sure the film I have seen get mentioned.
STORIES WE TELL (2013)
Sarah Polley is a good actor and with AWAY FROM HER she demonstrated she was an even better director. Nonetheless, this very personal documentary tells more about her than we really need to know. Here she interviews her family about their past. Eventually she gets to a family secret important to her, but of which she was unaware. The secret is not a particularly unusual one. I am sure in my town or any small town there are people with the same secret. The key to finding this film affecting is being shocked by Polley's discoveries and without spoiling the film the family secret just fails to be remarkable. Rating: low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
Tom Hanks is really today's Henry Fonda. There is just something about his manner that puts the viewer on his side. There is integrity to the characters he plays. In fact he is the only familiar actor in the film. In this account based on an actual incident Phillips is the captain of a container ship is called upon to be resourceful when Somali pirates board his boat and take control. The trailer seems to imply the plot is a competition between Somali pirates and a wily US sea captain. To some extent it is, but that is not what defeats the Somalis. Phillips's resourcefulness gives the Americans an advantage, but in the end it is United States Navy brute force and guile that overcomes the pirates. This film is not so much an action film as a first cousin to DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Rating: +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10
Robert Quarry who was a surprisingly satisfying modern-day vampire in COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA plays another vampire in DEATHMASTER, also made for American International Pictures. A coffin washes ashore containing something we do not see, but we come to know it is the body of Korda the Vampire. He turns up in a gang of hippies and is adopted as their guru for making oracular pronouncements that are taken for Eastern philosophy. One of the hippies is a kung fu expert, and Korda recognizes his virtue and offers to make him immortal. I doubt anybody in 1972 was convinced by the pseudo-hippy philosophy or the pseudo-Eastern philosophy and things have not changed much. Still it is worth seeing for the vampire parts. Rating: high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10
A HIGHJACKING (2012)
This Danish film covers some of the same territory as CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, but in most ways this is the superior film. A cargo ship is captured by Somali pirates. But the emphasis of the film is not on the conflict between the crew and the pirates. An executive of the shipping company Peter Ludvigsen (played by Soren Malling) chooses to negotiate for the company himself in spite of the advice of a hired advisor. That condemns him to the stress of a months-long negotiation. The emphasis is much more on the negotiations to bargain with the pirates and the story of each side. This is not an action film. Violence is kept off-screen and primarily is inflicted on a goat. (Well, the Somalis had to bring more food on board and their most portable food source is goats.) Unlike the Hanks film the bargaining process drags on for long months. While various people have misunderstandings of each other, we understand motives that are not clear to other people involved. And because film makes the process understandable for the viewer the film reminds one of the excellent MARGIN CALL (2011). Most of the A HIGHJACKING is in Danish, but all negotiations are held in English which helps a lot. Rating: low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10
MIRACLES FOR SALE (1939)
This film rarity was the last film directed by Tod Browning, who directed DRACULA (1931) and FREAKS (1932) as well as several Lon Chaney films. Sadly it turns out to be a surprisingly conventional murder mystery. The main character, played by Robert Young, is an inventor of illusions for stage magician and in his spare time he is a debunker of fake spiritualist mediums. Browning, who used real circus freaks for FREAKS, did not bother to use real stage illusions from the magicians. Instead he uses obvious camera tricks or card tricks in which he plants convenient cards in the performers hands. Fans of Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s will enjoy seeing many familiar faces including Henry Hull of THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, Gloria Holden of DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, and Frank Craven of SON OF DRACULA. Also playing is William Demarest and Eddie Acuff. In the end the film really does not work because someone who uses a disguise is just not very well disguised. Rating: 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10
Our "War of the Worlds" Tour of New Jersey (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last Saturday we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Orson Welles broadcast of "War of the Worlds" with a "War of the Worlds" tour of New Jersey--well, more specifically, a "War of the Worlds" tour of Grover's Mill.
The town in the October 30, 1938, broadcast was called Grovers Mill (according to the script); the real New Jersey town is Grover's Mill (apparently gradually changing into Grovers Mill, if one goes by the signs). So as you can see by the date, Saturday was not precisely the anniversary, but it was clearly the day to take the tour.
We began with a non-"War of the Worlds" stop at the Cranbury Bookworm, where we found a few books and a Teaching Company course on the masterpieces of the Louvre. Cranbury is basically right next door to Grover's Mill, so we could not pass up the chance to go there. (By the way, for any modern history buffs, the Bookworm has just acquired a *huge* library of practically pristine history books dealing with the 20th century, and also a large quantity from the same source dealing with Jewish history.)
Anyway, after Cranbury we headed for West Windsor Community Park, but on the way, we passed the Grover's Mill Coffee Co. I had read about this cafe, but had never sought it out. However, since it was right there...
The cafe is decorated with all sorts of "War of the Worlds" memorabilia: photographs and newspaper clippings pertaining to the 1938 broadcast, radio sets from the 1930s (or at least the exteriors of radio sets), movie posters from the 1953 George Pal and 2005 Steven Spielberg versions, and original paintings by Robert Hummel of the Martians invading Grovers Mill. There were also caps and T-shirts displayed from previous anniversaries. One interesting item was a letter from the State Police Headquarters in Trenton to the CBS network complaining about how the hoax tied up all their emergency personnel, and what if there had been a real emergency during that time?
We also saw a poster for a film titled "Grover's Mill", about the broadcast. I thought it was an obscure feature-length film, but it turned out to be an obscure short film (9 minutes long), not very good, but available free on YouTube for all you completists out there. (There is also a one-hour "Studio One" episode called "The Night America Trembled" and a feature-length TV movie "The Night That Panicked America"--both also available on YouTube.)
We then proceeded to West Windsor Community Park, with some difficulty because we missed the rather small sign the first time past it. When we saw we were driving past the library, I figured that would be a good place to go in and get directions, and it was.
The "historical display" pertaining to "War of the Worlds" was rather small, but this was in part a function of the weather. First of all, we had to ask one of the police at the "Trunk or Treat" area of the park where it was, as it was not visible from the road. It turned out to be behind one of the pavilions, because that was one of the few places out of the wind, and even there, all the papers on the tables had to be held down with rocks. Because the protected area was small, they could not spread out as much as they might normally have.
The display was similar to what was in the Grover's Mill Coffee Co., with the artist displaying a slightly different painting, and books and panels of clippings about the broadcast, and about the various anniversary celebrations. They seem to have had a big celebration in 1988, and a couple of more since then, but for this year's 75th anniversary, it was rather low-key. They were showing the 1953 movie that evening in the Senior Center, and the Grover's Mill Coffee Co. was having two live re-enactments of the broadcast, one on Saturday and one on October 30 itself. (Were we going to hang around, it would have been for the re-enactment.)
It would have been a good idea for West Windsor (or whoever) to play this up more--according to one of the women who had set up the display, they got calls from as far away as Germany about what was being planned.
After looking at the display and talking to some of the people there, we continued to Van Nest Park. This is the park in the heart of the Grovers Mill section of West Windsor. In the park is a six-foot-tall plaque commemorating the broadcast (see http://leepers.us/wotw-plaque.jpg that was erected for the 50th anniversary.
Only a few blocks away is the water tower reportedly shot at by a farmer who mistook it for an invading Martian. It is almost impossible to see from the main road, but we drove down the dead-end street Bolfmar Avenue and I could just glimpse it between the branches. We parked the car and as we got out, a woman walking her dogs said to us, "The water tower is over there," and pointed towards it, adding, "You can see it best from over here." I guess when strangers show up on Bolfmar Avenue, especially at the end of October, it is not hard to deduce what they are there for.
We could indeed see the water tower, and the end of October is probably a good time, because having the leaves off many of the trees helped. During the summer, it might well be invisible even from Bolfmar.
The woman also mentioned trail markers in Van Nest Park about the broadcast. Trail markers? We drove back and indeed, along the trail leading to the dock and picnic pavilion, Danny Fitzpatrick of BSA Troop 40 had erected a series of informational markers as his Eagle Scout project earlier this 2013. It's nice to see that some teenagers respect tradition.
So then we drove home and watched the 1953 film and the "Studio One" episode. Ave, War of the Worlds! [-ecl]
EERIE TALES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: One of the earliest examples of the horror omnibus film, this 1919 macabre work stars Conrad Veidt, Reinhold Schunzel, and Anita Berber as three fantastical paintings that come to life in a bookshop and share the horror stories they are reading. There are five stories, mostly familiar. Veidt was not yet the horror film star of Germany, but this film would go a long way to make him one. [I will not rate the film on the same scale I put modern films, but it is well worth a look.]
Among the classics of the British horror film is a set of anthology horror films produced by Amicus: DR TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1964), TORTURE GARDEN (1967), THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), ASYLUM (1972), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), VAULT OF HORROR (1973), and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1973). They were all apparently inspired by Ealing Studios DEAD OF NIGHT (1945). But the history of the anthology horror film goes back considerably further. Even before Conrad Veidt appeared in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920), he starred IN UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN (1919), better known as EERIE TALES or UNCANNY TALES. This is a film that has long been missing and recently has been found again. As of this writing it is available on YouTube.
The setting is a mysterious bookstore. Watching over the customers are three paintings showing respectively a prostitute, Death, and the Devil. When the shop closes the three leave their paintings and have themselves a high old time playing and reading horrific stories out of the books. There are five stories, mostly familiar including Poe's "The Black Cat," "Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather," and Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Suicide Club." "The Hand" by Robert Liebmann is also told. The first story, "The Apparition" by Anselma Heine is an oft-told story that Terence Fisher later also adapted to a full-length film. The three actors star in each of the stories as well as the framing sequence.
Director Richard Oswald was not a newcomer to fantasy anthology films. Three years earlier he had filmed a dramatic version to TALES OF HOFFMAN (1916). He had also directed two of the parts of an adaptation of DER HUND VON BASKERVILLE (1915). This same year, 1919, Oswald had made his most famous film, DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS, a sympathetic portrait of a gay man being blackmailed. The gay man was also played by Veidt.
I would have to say that if this film came out two years later it would be considered to be part of the German Expressionistic movement. Certainly if the sequences are not expressionistic, they are shot in a manner that is melodramatic. The acting is exaggerated at is invariably is in silent film and particularly expressionist film. A problem with silent film is that it is really a slow medium for telling a story because the actors have to slow down for florid gestures. The stories have to be stripped to the bare minimum to make time for the body language. It makes the telling almost operatic. But there is enough plot to keep the viewer interested. It is surprising how similar this is to the horror films of the 1970s.
See EERIE TALES on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAaEqSwe8SU
(On YouTube you can turn on subtitles clicking the CC icon in the lower right of the screen.)
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0010821/combined
Sports Names (probably not a letter of comment from Time Magazine):
Probably not in response to Mark's comments on sports team names in the 10/04/13 issue of the MT VOID, Time Magazine ran an article on page 13 in their 11/04 issue about possibly replacement names for the Washington Redskins. These included the Washington Gridlocks, the Washington Whistle-Blowers, and the Washington Deficits.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier (ISBN 978-0-380-73040-5) begins with a chapter that is practically botanical pornography:
"Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church. And there were other tress as well, trees that I did not recognise, squat oaks and tortured elms that straggled check by jowl with the beeches, and had thrust themselves out of the quiet earth, along with monster shrubs and plants, none of which I remembered. ... The trees had thrown out low branches, making an impediment to progress, the gnarled roots looking like skeleton claws. ... I saw that the garden had obeyed the jungle law, even as the woods had done. The rhododendrons stood fifty feet high, twisted and entwined with bracken, and they had entered into alien marriage with a host of nameless shrubs, poor, bastard things that clung about their roots as though conscious of their spurious origin. A lilac had mated with a copper beech, and to bind them yet more closely to one another the malevolent ivy, always an enemy to grace, had thrown her tendrils about the pair and made them prisoners."
The classic question left unanswered in REBECCA is, "What is the narrator's given name and maiden name?" Du Maurier goes to great length to avoid giving them; Hitchcock did likewise in his film version. But du Maurier does drop a couple of clues. When Maxim first sends the narrator a note, she writes, "But my name was on the envelope, and spelt correctly, an unusual thing." And later, Maxim says to her, "You have a very lovely and unusual name." Both of these could easily be applied to Daphne du Maurier's own name, and while I do not think she was making herself the narrator's character, I suspect there may have been some idea that the name was hers.
John Sutherland, in his essay on unanswered questions in REBECCA, quotes Hitchcock as seeing a flaw in the second body washing up on the beach the same night as Rebecca disappeared. But that was the movie's flaw; in the novel, two months elapse, and indeed, they have to, or the body would not be so decomposed that it could be mis-identified. Obviously if it were the same night, it would be a rather unbelievable coincidence, but it was not. Sutherland lists the second body's identity as an unanswered question, but it is not one that needs answering in the context of the book. Clearly there are no unsolved missing persons reports matching it, so it is (undoubtedly) presumed to be someone with no friends or relatives.
And there must have been something in the air, or the water, or something, because in the same year (1938) both du Maurier and Agatha Christie used the same metaphor. Du Maurier wrote of Mrs. Van Hopper's appearance when she said, "while she, like a large, complacent spider, spun her wide net of tedium around the stranger's person." And Christie introduced Mrs. Boynton in APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH with the description, "Old, swollen, bloated, sitting there immovable--a distorted old Buddha--a gross spider in the center of a web."
The film also changed the meeting of heroine and Maxim from the hotel in Monte Carlo to the cliff, eliminating the need for the later scene of Maxim and the heroine on the cliff. (Later there is condensation of scenes, with what in the novel are the fireworks of the ball actually being the distress rockets of the ship, which in the novel does not wreck until the next day.)
Similarly, Leff says, "Selznick added scenes of Van Hopper's confinement" to provide space for the romantic development, but again these were in the novel. I suppose it is possible that the scenes were not in the original screenplay and Selznick asked for them to be added, but Leff seems to imply they were entirely Selznick's idea.
A detail that is new in the film is that Rebecca's underwear was made by nuns, emphasizing the distinction between Rebecca's pure persona in the manor and her lascivious persona in the cottage.
On the Criterion DVD, Leonard J. Leff says, "Hitchcock of course had [Mrs. Van Hooper] choose the cold cream for her ashtray." First of all, that is directly from the novel. But secondly, the screenplay credit is to Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison; the adaptation credit is to Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan. It is possible that Leff saying that Hitchcock made that choice because the original treatment given to MacDonald and Hogan was written by Hitchcock, Hogan, and Alma Reville, but even if so, it is not clear which of them decided to use the scene.
Similarly, Leff says that Hitchcock's early treatments for REBECCA have the heroine breaking the Cupid in anger, while the film shows her breaking it in clumsiness. But the film shows what du Maurier wrote, slightly changed in actual method but still from clumsiness rather than from anger. (This makes sense, because she also overturned the vase of flowers in Monte Carlo from awkwardness, and drops her gloves when she first arrives at Manderly. These two events are retained from the novel in the film.)
The biggest change, though, was due to Joseph Breen, who insisted that murder could not go unpunished, which eventually resulted in changing the murder to an accident.
And speaking of screenwriting, in THE CRAFT OF THE SCREENWRITER by John Brady (ISBN 978-0-671-25230-4) Ernest Lehman complains about how reviewers seem to assume that there is no screenwriter. He quotes a review of EXECUTIVE SUITE as saying, "Director Robert Wise then moves his drama to the boardroom for the final sequence," and then continues, "No. The director doesn't move the drama to the boardroom; the screenwriter moves it to the boardroom because that's where he and/or the novelist thinks it should be."
(The classic story along these lines is how screenwriter Robert Riskin got tired of reading about how the director Frank Capra gave all his movies "the famous Capra touch," so he sent in a sheaf of blank paper for his next screenplay and said, "Let's see you give that the famous Capra touch!")
But perhaps the best exchange in the 1981 book is from the interview with Paddy Chayevsky:
Brady: Do you think your films will work ten years from now?
Chayevesky: Sure, they'll hold up. Those are well-made movies, so they'll hold up well.
Brady: I think of NETWORK, for example, a movie about television here and now, and I wonder if ten years from now...
Chayevsky: NETWORK will hold up very well; NETWORK is a good picture. A good picture always holds up. I looked at my old TV shows; they hold up. They're period pieces. They deal with a world that is almost gone. But they hold up as statements of their time.
Brady was clearly way off-track on doubting NETWORK's staying power, but Chayevsky was also wrong if he thought that ten years later it would be a period piece. It has now been over thirty-five years and it seems just as fresh as when Chayevsky wrote it. (I just re-watched it, and the only part that did not ring true was that there were only four networks.)
Oh, well, as William Goldman (another interviewee) famously said, "Nobody [in Hollywood] knows anything." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life is the other way round. --David LodgeTweet
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