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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/08/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 6, Whole Number 1818
Table of Contents
Maninasuitasauri (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In Japanese monster movies a quadruped is a creature that walks on its hands and knees. [-mrl]
Tweeting Con Reports (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
People are tweeting their con reports these days, with sequential tweets. I calculated I would need about 1000 tweets to use Twitter for my last Worldcon report. [-ecl]
Phantoms of the Opera: A Survey of Adaptations (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am continuing on with my article on the various dramatic adaptation of Gaston Leroux's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
1943 Claude Rains
This was the first version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that I ever saw and it remains my favorite. I also believe that it is the most entertaining film version of the story. In spite of the fact that Erich Taylor's greatly re-written story bears only minor similarities to the original story, this seems to be the pre-Lloyd- Webber version of the story that was most popular. I have come to call this version of the Phantom the "Erich Taylor" version. By the "Taylor Phantom" I mean the relatively normal composer whose music is stolen and in the course of his rage his face is burned, rather than having had a face that was deformed from birth. Erich Taylor adapted the novel to a screenplay for this version and probably invented this often-repeated plot variation. The Herbert Lom and Maximilian Schell versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA as well as the homage The Phantom of the Paradise are not based on the book to any noticeable degree but rather are remakes of the Taylor version of the story.
The Taylor Phantom is essentially different from the Leroux Phantom in that his anger is sharper and generally more focused. Rather than being angry at the world in general, Taylor Phantoms usually have the person who wronged them as a particular object of their anger. The Taylor Phantom is less misanthropic since he has been wronged by a smaller set of people. In fact in this version Erique Claudin, as the Phantom is named here, is actually a misguided altruist. His only motive is to do all he can to confer success on the young singer from his village in Provence. Also he derives his power not from having helped design the opera house but because he has stolen a master key.
One of the ironies--and for once irony does not strengthen the story--is that most of Erique's efforts were paying off. Had he only waited he never would have been disfigured. We are shown that his music has been discovered by Franz Liszt only moments before his rage in which he murders Pleyel and has his face burned. There seemed to be a general theme in Universal Films around this time that social injustice was being corrected, albeit slowly. In the remake of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME made four years earlier we were also told that society is changing and getting better. Injustices like the ones shown in the film would soon become impossible thanks to new inventions like the printing press. I seriously doubt that Victor Hugo, the author of HUNCHBACK, would have found that theme in his own misanthropic novel. Oddly in Phantom as in HUNCHBACK the force for society improving is played by Fritz Leiber, Sr. In HUNCHBACK he played a benevolent king and in Phantom he plays Liszt, who has recognized Erique's genius. Also, in keeping with the positive message, we are told that Erique's suffering and madness will be forgotten but his music will live on. In fact, it is likely that Erique's music would be remembered because of not in spite of the notoriety. Note that Antonio Salieri's music was remembered by only a select few until a popular play linked him with the death of Mozart.
While being inaccurate to the novel this version does not have a bad script at all. This is true in spite of a bit too much comic relief and not enough of the drama or horror it is intended to relieve us from. Surprisingly enough this version is even topical today. Erique is, after all, a terrorist and there is a discussion of whether his terrorism should be given in to or resisted. The question is inherent in most versions of the story, but it is given most discussion here of any version. Still this version has the sort of light story wartime audiences would have craved. There is no romantic triangle of Christine caught between the Phantom and her lover--Erique is too nice for that. But there is a triangle of Christine caught between Anatole the baritone and Raoul the police inspector. Christine is also caught between romance in general and her career. And finally Anatole is caught between Christine, whom he wants, and Madame Biancarolli, who wants him.
The entire film was aimed at wartime audiences' desire for escape. It was given a big budget production with splashy Technicolor and lots of intricate operatic production numbers. While these numbers may have been an inaccurate representation of what opera is really like, they are entertaining. And while the sets of the catacombs beneath the opera were more impressive in the Chaney version, here they occasionally appear to be just paintings and less than totally convincing. Still, even here the color serves the film very well. Ironically, while Claude Rains is nobody's idea of an athletic actor, here he comes off as a dynamic swashbuckler. Through much of the film we see him only as a shadow with a big fedora and a grand sweeping cape. That, in fact, is how he is pictured in the ads. When we see him masked he had a dramatic gray mask and wavy hair like Liberace. As a matter of taste, I would say that while the unmasking scene is less dramatic than in the Chaney version (though the acid scars are probably fairly realistic), the chandelier sequence is the most dramatically successful of any film version of the story. It is as suspenseful as any scene Hitchcock ever directed. With scenes like that I can forgive the rather overly dramatic last scene we see below the opera house with Erique's violin and the mask artfully placed on it. The picture looks like something from a perfume ad.
The Lon Chaney version is the greatest artistic success, but to my taste this is the film version that is the most enjoyably watchable.
1962 Herbert Lom
Of all the versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that I watched in order to write this article, this one was the biggest revelation to me. This was a film I enjoyed a great deal as a teenager. I am a fan of Hammer Films of Britain and what they meant to the horror film. And this is reasonably good as a Hammer film goes. But as a version of The Phantom of the Opera it really is just awful.
There is no indication in the film that anyone involved has read the novel or even knew that there was a novel. The credits say that the screenplay is by John Elder "based on a composition by Gaston Leroux." It seems unclear whether it was a novel, a story, a screenplay or something else. That is a quite justifiable ambiguity since this film was not based on the novel at all but on the Taylor Phantom. There is no evidence that anyone connected with the film saw even the Chaney version.
The film is full of embarrassing moments. The Phantom slaps Christine when she is not willing to put enough effort into her music, but his hand misses her by several inches, yet there is a resounding slap on the soundtrack. Michael Gough, who had been a credit to other Hammer productions, really chews up the scenery as the lecherous opera house owner and supposed composer. Rather than evoking any real emotion in the screenplay we are simply told how powerful the mystery is. One of the managers of the opera seems to have a speech impediment that makes him end each sentence with an exclamation point. "Parts of London are a lost world! We can never know what caverns and dungeons and labyrinths rest beneath us! Or what madmen and monsters inhabit them!" "Something evil is in this theater!" "Is it because any other explanation is just too incredible?!"
In fact, what is in the theater is a real letdown. Generally what makes the Phantom interesting is his combination of genius, pathos, and ruthless power. He is a Jekyll and Hyde figure. In this rendition they have split the Jekyll and Hyde into two characters, a good self who is the wronged composer, and the bad self who is a nameless knife-wielding hunchback. The result is that neither character has much depth or much interest value. Nor do the characters make much sense. Petrie is a starving composer who must sell his music for a pittance. He apparently has never taught. Yet after a while in a sewer he has become a great music teacher. But for a couple of slaps, he seems to be a gentle sort. The actual murders are committed by the crazed hunchback for who knows what motive. At no point do we see Petrie tell the hunchback to commit murders.
The film does real violence to the story, making at least an effort to fit in all the standard scenes, but in a weird combination. Screenwriter John Elder gets to the end of the film and apparently realizes that standard scenes like the unmasking and the falling chandelier are not present. Christine Charles has been too demure and respectful and--let's face it--mousy to unmask the Phantom herself and Petrie is too nice a guy to drop a chandelier on anybody. Elder combines the two scenes in the Phantom seeing the chandelier falling on Christine, he pauses to rip off his mask for no really good reason, leaps to save Christine and is himself crushed by the chandelier. Also uncharacteristic of Hammer or of versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the chief villain remains totally unscathed. Presumably he will eventually lose his reputation if Harry, the hero, chooses to tell the world about the plagiarism, but earlier Harry had indicated that he probably would not do so.
Speaking of script problems, Elder wrote the screenplay to have us hear generous portions of a great and popular new opera. Then in the production somebody actually had to write these production scenes. Can you imagine poor Edwin Astley, who wrote the music, being confronted with the task of having to compose convincing portions of a popular opera? If he could write great opera, would he be writing for B films? What he gave them was a thoroughly unpleasant and truly awful piece of imitation opera that the audience supposedly just loves. Even the character Harry is exaggerating when he faintly calls it "a good tune."
The film is just chock full of things that should have been done better while not doing anything very good. But for the Richard Englund version, it is the worst English-language film of the story. It is certainly better than the Englund version, but that is faint praise indeed.
1982 Maximilian Schell
One ordinarily assumes that a made-for-television film will not be made to the standards of a theatrical film. The 1983 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA which starred Maximilian Schell and Jane Seymour is surprisingly a very watchable if somewhat revisionist telling of the story. In most ways it is probably superior to the later made-for-television Charles Dance version made with a higher budget. In fact this version is one of the better film versions.
This is one of the film versions not really based on the book but on the Erich Taylor 1943 screenplay with the setting shifted to Budapest. The Phantom is not born deformed but is disfigured in a fire brought about by his own rage. In this case his rage is not over his music but over how badly his wife, an aspiring singer, has been treated by critics. The critics were employed by the manager of the opera house after the wife spurned the manager's advances. The manager need not have bothered, of course. The singing of the wife, as we hear in the film, really is abominable. The poor quality of her voice may have been exaggerated so that the viewer gets the point, but it is an unrealistic touch that any singer this bad would really get a leading role in an opera. In any case, the wife is demoralized by a bad review which appeared too soon after the performance not to have been written beforehand. Depressed, the wife commits suicide and her husband goes to confront the critic only to cause the fire that disfigures him.
Four years later the Phantom, whose real name in this version is Shandor Korvin, hears a young singer, Maria Gianelli, who looks very much like his dead wife. And the story goes from there. He does not tell her that he is the Angel of Music but calls himself Orpheus. That is, I suppose, a literate transformation. Orpheus was a great music maker who goes underground, much like the Phantom, though for a very different purpose. Some of the music in the opera sequences is very nice in this version, but as with the later Charles Dance version it is poorly matched to the singers' lips.
Some mention should be made of the visual appearance of the Phantom. Schell's Phantom when unmasked looks much like the original description in the Leroux book. In fact, of the live action versions only Chaney's makeup is arguably closer to the book's description of the skull-like face and no other version comes even close. In addition, Schell wears a variety of masks and for once they are as well thought out as his makeup. In the book we are given no description of the mask at all. One mask Schell wears is artistically detailed with renderings of facial features and one looks almost like a plastic version of Schell's own face.
Finally there is the end of the Phantom. This may have been at once one of the more dramatic and one of the more foolish ends for the Phantom. It is based not on the book but apparently on the dramatic film poster for the Herbert Lom version. In that poster the Phantom is seen hanging on to the flaming chandelier as it plummets into a screaming audience. It is a very dramatic scene and one which the film it advertised totally fails to deliver. It is inaccurate to the Lom version in about five different ways and would have brightened the Hammer version considerably. The scene pictured in fact appears almost precisely as depicted, but in this later 1983 version of The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom stands on the chandelier and cuts the suspending chain above his head. It is not apparently an act of suicide, though that is the effect. It appears to be just a very stupid mistake.
While there is little in this film that Gaston Leroux would recognize of his own book, it is a decent melodrama, explains the genius of the Phantom, and is of a quality at least comparable with any of the theatrical versions. [-mrl]
Google Robot, Space X Falcon 9, and Space Drive (comments by Greg Frederick):
Below is a link to a new Google robot which was originally developed as part of Darpa's (Government advanced technology military division) contest for companies to produce a robot that can help in emergency events where humans can not go. The Japanese nuclear plant gas explosions caused by that earthquake in the past might have been avoided if this type of robot was available then. The plant was too radioactive for humans to enter. That is why the US and other governments are trying to create such a robot. This robot can drive a vehicle, clear a path, use tools, open doors and even turn off valves.
Elon Musk has another success on his hands. After a mission to launch six satellites into orbit, the Falcon 9 rocket from that mission was used in an attempt to practice landing the 1st stage back on the Earth vertically. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space X just put a video on-line showing that this Falcon 9 rocket 1st stage reentered the Earth's atmosphere and with the rocket engines re-igniting at least two times, they got the first stage to stop tumbling and to come down vertically. Then they slowed down the 1st stage and the landing legs deployed. This was above the Pacific Ocean so that Falcon just fell over and splashed into the Ocean. Had this been over land it would have been a good vertically landing. But later this year since this experiment was a success they will attempt to land another Falcon 9 rocket on land vertically. That first stage can then be reconditioned, refueled and used in another launch. That means Musk can reduce the cost to launch into space by a factor of 100. See video in link below.
Roger Shawyer first unveiled his EmDrive thruster back around 2003 and many scientists laughed at the idea. They and NASA are not laughing anymore. NASA tested this idea and it works. This thruster uses microwaves bounding in a special chamber to create thrust without any fuel. Solar energy could provide the power to generate the microwaves. The scientists think that quantum fluctuations are some how creating thrust when the microwaves bounce inside this chamber. They are not certain exactly how this works but it does work. They have only created very low levels of force so far but this is just the beginning. I have read where the Chinese have taken this idea and already created a propulsion system for one of their satellites of the future. This could potential greatly reduce travel times in space. Article is listed below.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE BELEAGUERED CITY: THE VICKSBURG CAMPAIGN DECEMBER 1862 - JULY 1863 by Shelby Foote (ISBN 978-0-679-60170-8) is a 350-page excerpt from Foote's THE CIVIL WAR, A NARRATIVE: FREDERICKSBURG TO MERIDIAN (the second volume of Foote's three-volume history of the Civil War). Grant's efforts to take Vicksburg included seven different plans that failed before he came up with one that succeeded. Coincidentally, while I was in the middle of these, we watched a movie about the Large Hadron Collider in which one physicist, Savas Dimopoulos, talks about how those theoretical physicists whose theories were disproven (or at least cast into serious doubt) should react: "Jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm is the secret to success." Well, I'm not sure Grant's reactions ever escalated to the point of enthusiasm, but he certainly had the "get back up on the horse" spirit. This was first demonstrated at Shiloh, when after the first (disastrous) day, his friend William Tecumseh Sherman said to him, "We've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" And all Grant said was, "Yes-- lick 'em tomorrow, though." And he did.
Similarly, none of his seven failures to take Vicksburg (nor his overly optimistic prediction about the time required for the eighth, successful assault) convinced Grant to give up. To get a feeling of what he was up against, here's a summary:
On another topic, a recent article in the "New York Times" talked about how important coffee was in the Civil War. This was primarily for its caffeine--generals would see that the men had their coffee right before a battle--but also as a psychological boost, which they would get from coffee-like beverages made from grains or other substances. (Think Postum.) Regarding this, I note that Foote quotes Grant as saying at one point, "I do not calculate upon the possibility of supplying the army with full rations from Grand Gulf. I know it will be impossible with constructing additional roads. What I do expect, however, is to get up what rations of hard bread, coffee, and salt we can, and make the country furnish the balance." So Grant considered it as basic as hardtack and salt. As for the hardtack, at one point the troops had been "eating off the land" for three weeks, and were tired of it. "Turkey and sweet potatoes were fine as a special treat, it seemed, but such rich food had begun to pall as a regular thing." They were calling (yelling, in fact) for hardtack, and Grant obliged. "That night there was hardtack for everyone, along with beans, and coffee to wash it down." They may not have called for coffee, but clearly Grant (and Foote) understood it to be important. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: No matter how correct a mathematical theorem may appear to be, one ought never to be satisfied that there was not something imperfect about it until it also gives the impression of being beautiful. --George BooleTweet
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