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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/12/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 24, Whole Number 1836
Table of Contents
Soprano State (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
For a book discussion I was reading THERE IS MORE TO NEW JERSEY THAN THE SOPRANOS. I question the title's statement not so much for its veracity but for its profundity. Somehow I never doubted the contention of the title. What is hard to imagine is how things would be if the statement was false. [-mrl]
Serling and Bradbury Falling-Out (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Mark Zicree, author of THE TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION tells of a little-known disagreement between Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling with background material on each man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bhvb8Tmi38
Mini-Reviews of 2014 Films:
This is the time of year I have to watch a large number of films for award consideration. I do not have time to write a full review for each, but I will try to write a short paragraph for each. I suspect few of these films will see their way to the big screen anywhere but New York or L.A., but they should show up places like NetFlix. These days most films you would want to see are available somewhere.
I was a fan of Roger Ebert for many years. It did not hurt that he wrote me and claimed to have read my reviews for years. He did quote me once in one of his reviews. This is a documentary account of the career based on his memoir of the same title. I would have liked to like this biography and tribute to him, but it is strangely organized. It goes back and forth from a biography to his answering some interview questions. It came out sort of a jumble. Still there was info of interest, but it was just not what it could have been. Some of Ebert's words are read by a voiceover that really sounds like Roger Ebert. There could have been more said about Ebert's writing strategy. Rating: +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
This is the Swedish-chosen candidate for Best Foreign Language Film of 2014. A family of four is on a ski vacation. While sitting on a deck having lunch there is an avalanche. The father runs to safety while the other three stay behind. The avalanche is harmless but the family is upset that the father's first thought was to save himself. There are long discussions of whether he did the wrong thing or not. Ultimately the question is whether the family relationship has been changed forever or can it heal. The film takes no stand on was what the father did really bad or not, leaving to controversy to the viewer. The film is shot on video with long, often silent, passages. The situation could have been presented in a shorter film, but it is a film that could start arguments. Rating: +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
WHITEY: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. JAMES J. BULGER
Bulger was an organized crime godfather who after years of violent crime with apparent impunity was finally put on trial. But the trial turned up corruption throughout American's criminal justice system. Filmmaker Joe Berlinger's film uses interviews and talking heads and tells a story that requires a great deal of concentration to follow. Unfortunately we see Bulger only in photos. Rating: +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
LIFE'S A BREEZE
This is an Irish comedy about a family with serious financial problems. For his mother's birthday the main character renovates her house, discarding his mother's mattress. He then finds out his mother had saved nearly a million Euros and hid them in that mattress. This starts a treasure hunt. The film is whimsical, but it is not willing to do what it would take to make a strong social statement and whimsy wins over any sort of a message. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
One of the better films of the year. Two Mexicans slip over the border to find work in Arizona and are present at the accidental death of a US woman. They are accused of murder, but the victim's husband, a former sheriff (played by Ed Harris), is not convinced they killed his wife. The film makes a strong statement about illegal immigrant issues including vigilantism. Rating: low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
TWO FACES OF JANUARY
This film is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. She is best known for THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and the Ripley series. An American tour guide meets an American family in Athens. The husband gets into trouble, and a battle of wits ensues between the two groups. I had no idea where the film was going, but it was suspenseful. Polished, but the ending needed more punch. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
THE MISSING PICTURE
The most popular documentaries are ones that offer some kind of novelty. For example, last year's THE ACT OF KILLING had the perpetrators of the Indonesian killings of 1965-66 recreating their crimes as scenes in gangster movies. THE MISSING PICTURE tells about the bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The film's special approach is that the person who is telling of his experiences has carved little clay dolls to portray his memories in what are effectively dioramas. It is not clear that this is the best way to present the material. The information is compelling though it is done by voiceover with an unemotional monotone voice. The clay dolls really do not seem to do much for the narrative. Rating +2 one the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
JOURNEY TO THE WEST
Maker of martial arts comedies Stephen Chow (SHAOLIN SOCCER, KUNG- FU HUSTLE) tells his version of the origin of the Monkey King, Pigsy, and the other characters of the Chinese classic PILGRIMAGE TO THE WEST. There are plenty of monsters, plenty of kung fu fighting, lots of offbeat gags. This version is not at all faithful to the novel (I believe). The comedy is not really funny, but it gives the film a light touch. The effects use CGI, but are imaginatively done. Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
I will have more reviews in two weeks. [-mrl]
THE BABADOOK (film review by Mark R. Leeper): CAPSULE: A mother is driven to the edge of insanity by her seven-year-old who insists that the monster in his storybook is really a presence in his house. The mother does not believe in the monster, but finds it can be horrifying whether she believes or not. This film is a fresh combination of familiar horror elements. Mother and child seem to be set against each other and it is hard to be too fearful on either's behalf. First-time writer and first time director Jennifer Kent turns in a crisp horror thriller. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Amelia (played by Essie Davis) lost her husband in an automobile accident while he was taking her to the hospital to have her baby whom she named Samuel. Now it is nearly seven years later, and Sam (Noah Wiseman) has suddenly become a real problem child. It all starts when his mother reads for him a bedtime storybook called "Mister Babadook." Mister Babadook wears a tall hat and shows sharp-looking teeth. He is a boogieman and threatens children. The threat of Mister Babadook starts taking over Sam's life. At night Sam dreams about the monster and during the day he builds weapons that he hopes will allow him to kill Mister Babadook.
Sam is becoming unmanageable wrecking the house and taking improvised weapons to school. Amelia tries to restrain Sam, but Sam knows she does not really love him, perhaps because of the circumstances of his birth. Making matters worse, Amelia starts hearing odd noises at night and is starting to believe in Mister Babadook herself.
The idea that a child's nightmare has some reality is very common in horror stories from Gahan Wilson cartoons to movies such as POLTERGEIST and the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films. This is Australian screenwriter and director Jennifer Kent's first feature film. At 95 minutes it appears to be a remake and expansion of the 10-minute film "Monster" which Kent wrote and directed in 2005. She mixes in classic horror themes, psychological horror, a bit of blood and a lot of yelling. To give the film a chilling feel, it is shot primarily in shades of gray and blue.
Amelia finds she cannot sleep at night after facing the antics of Sam so she watches TV only to find that Australian cable seems to run nothing but sexual references or horrific scenes from films and cartoons. There is a nice little tribute to the darker fantasies of Georges Méliès and pieces of BLACK SABBATH and the unmasking scene from the 1925 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. (Actually it makes me wonder if Australian cable might not be more interesting than cable in the United States.) Soon horror images are dominating Amelia's mind. One thing that does not seem to work is having both Amelia and Sam be to some extent repellent. When one threatens the other, it is hard to work up much sympathy. (United States airlines have discovered that people have surprisingly little sympathy for screaming children.) And a good horror film needs a good horrific ending to send audiences quaking into the streets. It is not really there.
THE BABADOOK (shouldn't it be titled MISTER BABADOOK?) is often very professionally executed and has a nice sense of atmosphere, but the story just does not have enough fresh ideas to make it a classic. I rate THE BABADOOK +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2321549/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_babadook/
LOCK IN by John Scalzi (copyright 2014, Tor, $24.99, 336pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-7586-5) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
John Scalzi has become mandatory reading for me. I can't quite pin down when exactly that happened. It could be after I read OLD MAN'S WAR or any of its sequels. It could be because I'm entertained by his blog, Whatever, and am interested in what he has to say in whatever medium he has to say it. It also could be because he's a nice guy. I sat on a panel with him at Capricon several years ago, and chatted with him at breakfast one morning in the green room at that same convention. It could be any or all of those things.
Or it could be the fact that I like his writing. He has a clear, clean writing style. He is direct and to the point. His previous book, REDSHIRTS, won him a Best Novel Hugo. It may not have been the best novel released in 2013, but since the Hugos are really just a popularity contest, it's clear that he entertained a lot of people with that book. He's also unambiguous about his writing. He has told fans more than once that he strives to write commercial fiction that will entertain the masses. He's not out there to change the face of the field. And as near as I can tell, he's never done so. And that's okay. We have enough authors that are trying to do that.
The good news is that LOCK IN, his latest novel, contributes to Scalzi's consistency. The bad news, in my opinion, is that it really is nothing special, unlike OLD MAN'S WAR or REDSHIRTS. Oh, it's entertaining all right. Snappy and witty dialog, fast moving story, plenty of action, political intrigue, and a satisfying resolution to the story. So what's not to like?
The story takes place in the near future. A virus has caused a large portion of the population to be "locked in". They are perfectly aware of everything going on around them, but they are completely immobile. They can't use their bodies as at all. They either use Integrators, which allows them to take over the body of a person who "survived" the lock in virus and has a brain that will allow it, or they use a "threep", a robot body, named in the honor of some robot of a movie back in the 1970s (if you can't figure that one out, let's go out for a beer sometime and talk about this little thing called Star Wars :-)). So, there's the background. What's going on is that funding for the folks affected by the virus has been provided by the government pretty much since the original outbreak. That funding is being cut off because the Hadens, as they are called--victims of Haden's Syndrome--are becoming their own class of citizen, and the government feels that they no longer need to be favored. A good portion of the money that was provided was going toward a project to find away to cure people of Haden's Syndrome and bring them back into "normal" society. That revocation of funding is at the heart of the story, which is really a police procedural in which a version of the good cop/bad cop scenario plays out, with rookie FBI agent Chris Shane being paired with Agent Leslie Vann, who has an interesting past. There are all sorts of twists and turns as the pair investigate bombings, murders, and financial string pulling in an effort to discover who is behind the murders and why.
One of the subplots in the book is the question of whether Hadens need to be cured of their disease or whether they should be allowed to live their lives the way they are. The initial Hadens came down with the virus after they were born, and many had already lived a good portion of their lives. They knew what it was like to not be a Haden. Later victims of the virus were young, or even born that way, and thus really didn't have the perspective of having use of their own bodies. They *liked* being a Haden. They didn't see being given use of their bodies as a cure so much as having something taken away from them. They are, in can be argued, a new and/or different species of human being.
This idea, which parallels similar things going on in our real world today, is well worth exploring in a novel. It's a great idea that Scalzi introduced. However, I think that it warrants a bigger part of whatever (see what I did there?) novel it's in, and this is where I think that Scalzi's writing style failed--to a point--here. Much like the idea of a gender-neutral society in Ann Leckie's ANCILLARY JUSTICE, Scalzi doesn't spend enough time on it. He wants to write a story that is commercial and entertaining, and if he can work in some current events and issues, so much the better, but in my mind that aspect fails because he doesn't investigate it enough.
And that's why this book just doesn't rise to the level of some of Scalzi's other works. It tries to put one too many ideas into a novel that is otherwise intended to be an entertaining police procedural. Well, in my opinion, anyway--take that for what its worth. I just wasn't enthused about LOCK IN. It was not a bad book by any means. It just could have been so much better. [-jak]
LIFE AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT: FROM THE DOUBLE HELIX TO THE DAWN OF DIGITAL LIFE by J. Craig Venter (book review by Gregory Frederick):
The author of this book is a world-renowned scientist who has led a team of scientists and engineers in developing the technology to sequence the human genome and to create the first synthetic life form which was a self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell. Craig Venter begins the book summarizing the history of biological research at the cellular level, which starts as far back as Robert Hooke 's microscopic investigation of cork in the 1600 's. Hooke discovered that cork is made up of individual cells and later it was determined that cells are the basic structure for all of life. Proteins were initially considered to be the source of genetic information that controlled an organism. But after Watson and Crick determined the molecular structure of the double helix molecule known as DNA that idea was rejected in favor of chromosomes and DNA.
The creation of a synthetic bacteria cell pioneered by Venter's team involved synthesizing DNA by modifying existing DNA and cloning it in a host cell then transplanting that new DNA from one species of microbe to another species of microbe. This process is made even more difficult when utilizing bacteria because bacteria are prokaryote life forms. Prokaryotes lack a distinct membrane bound nucleus. The DNA is extremely difficult to find in these cells. Venter's company has sequenced the genes of many influenza viruses which have occurred since 2005. And now this data can be used to better predict the next strain of infectious and dangerous flu virus. Using major advances in synthetic biology, cell based manufacturing and digital to biological conversion; Venter's company in conjunction with Novartis a company that manufactures flu vaccines have reduced new flu vaccine production from 35 days to 5 days. The author also states that it should be possible in the near future to put a robotically controlled genome-sequencing unit on a roving Mars robot for example. The robot sequencer could read the DNA of microbes existing there and even from preserved DNA from past life. This way we could learn about life on another planet without the cost and inherit dangers of transporting a sample back to the Earth.
This book presents a very detailed and technical explanation of the advances in synthetic genomics and gene sequencing. [-gf]
This is pretty amazing stuff. Our local library book discussion group read the book back in April. Evelyn discusses it in issue http://leepers.us/mtvoid/VOID0509.htm.
Venter talks about what happens when this is connected to 3D printing so you can effectively beam bacteria to where they can be studied. Some pretty amazing stuff. [-mrl]
Orion Launch (comments by Gregory Frederick):
NASA is trying to launch their first new deep space spacecraft since Apollo today. But it looks like wind and valve problems could delay the launch till later in the week. This new Orion capsule can travel to the Moon, an asteroid parked in lunar orbit or eventually Mars. It can sustain astronauts far longer in space then an Apollo capsule and is larger (can carry 4-6 astronauts) plus it has the modern electronics of the 21st century. Also it is reusable; it has silicon tiles on it like the shuttle had.
I have read where Orion would have a living module attached to it for astronauts to inhabit for the six-month travel time to Mars. Orion would be the taxi to take astronauts from the Earth to the module and then back to the Earth. To land on Mars a Mars lander (similar to the lunar lander but better) would need to be created. NASA is considering a new propulsion method for a Mars manned mission. A solar-powered ion drive is being considered for this mission. The NASA Dawn spacecraft that visited Vesta (an asteroid in the asteroid belt) has such a drive today. [-gf]
Advances really new and different have been slow in coming, at least so it seems from the public. This is the first imagination stretcher in quite a while. I hope the public keeps it in mind. We were at Huntsville Space and Rocket Center about 15 months ago and they were touting a new rocket coming from NASA. I guess it must have been Orion. [-mrl]
Orion is the new space capsule that was launched last Friday and it used a Delta 4 rocket as its booster. But the next launch of the Orion space capsule in either 2017 or 2018 will use the space launch system (SLS) rocket. The SLS will be flexible so more stages and more powerful solid rockets (attached on the sides of the main stack) can be added to it as needed. The SLS will be the most powerful rocket built by humans when it is in operation. NASA is still building the SLS at this time. To put the payloads into space needed for a lunar mission, an asteroid rendezvous or Mars mission NASA must have the SLS. The 2017 or 2018 flight of Orion will orbit the Moon. [-gf]
Dieting (letters of comment by Gregory Benford and Walter Meissner):
In response to Mark's comments about dieting in the 12/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
There's no evidence that calorie restriction benefits human lifespan. None. The chimp studies showed the calorie restriction made chimps irritable, have fewer illnesses, yet lived no longer.
Animals benefit at the level of ~5% from calorie restriction, but humans don't. The lowest mortality rates (& longer longevity) in humans rise with Body Mass Index BMI from age 50 on, so higher BMI in later ages enhances lifespan.
Pretty clear results, counter to decades of received wisdom. [-gb]
Walter Meissner writes:
I think the gist of this was ...
In the younger years ... it is better to be a bit underweight (calorie restriction) as this slows down the metabolism, results in slower cell division which increase the life span.
In the older years ... it is better to be a bit overweight (well- fed) as this provides more of a reserve in combating diseases and the aging mechanism. This increases the survivability when encountering adverse health conditions.
Whether under or over weight, cellular function is better when the proper gets exactly what it needs in terms of nutrition. Life span can vary (+/- 10 years) depending on lifestyle and nutrition.
Determining exactly what constitutes good nutrition is actually not that easy. There are a lot of red herrings out there when it comes to good nutritional advice.
NOTE: The cells can divide about 120 times before they self- destruct due to the mechanism of the telomeres (the twist ties that keeps the ends of DNA together) that get shorter with each cell division. At some point the DNA unravels and cellular function is disrupted. Each cell divides about once a year, based on the metabolic rate, i.e. the slower it is, the fewer cells divisions there are. Also, neurons and certain other structures do not divide regularly. The theoretical maximum life span is about 120 years assuming a slower metabolic rate with cell division occurring greater than once a year. This is generally achieved by a calorie- restricted diet. A few people in current times have reached that age.
Also, when one is in a calorie-restricted diet (or intermittently fasting) the cells' behavior is on the defensive which improves cellular function and life span.
"This is because it takes about six to eight hours for your body to metabolize your glycogen stores; after that you start to shift to burning fat. However, if you are replenishing your glycogen by eating every eight hours (or sooner), you make it far more difficult for your body to use your fat stores as fuel."
Here are some links on intermittent fasting.
KetogenicDiet: Ketosis: Metabolic Flexibility in Action: http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/ketosis.html
Mercola: What the Science Says About Intermittent Fasting: http://tinyurl.com/void-mercola
"Calorie restriction without malnutrition has been shown to work in a variety of species, among them yeast, fish, rodents and dogs to decelerate the biological aging process, resulting in longer maintenance of youthful health and an increase in both median and maximum lifespan."
Here is a link on calorie restriction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calorie_restriction
If one is really starving due to the lack of food, then the life span decreases dramatically. [-wm]
Pluto (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Probably not in response to Joseph Major and Mark's comments on Pluto in the 12/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, XKCD ran the following: http://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/1458.
(The URL is for the web site that provides commentary for each XKCD comic.) [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I am busy working my way through the BFI series of film books, and while most of the ones I am interested in are available via inter- library loan, a couple were not. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was one of them, but (not surprisingly) was rather pricy on the used market. However, the Spanish edition was considerably cheaper, so I bought that. LA NOVIA DE FRANKENSTEIN (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) by Alberto Manguel (translated by Gabriela Ventureira) (ISBN 978-84-9784-095-X) was not, alas, translated by Manguel himself, but one hopes he at least vetted the translation. In any case, the Spanish is very straightforward and quite easy to read, which was a relief after the "academic writing" in some of the volumes.
[Wikipedia lists Manguel as "an Argentine-born Canadian anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist and editor." I know him as the author of the DICTIONARY OF IMAGINARY PLACES and the editor of the "Black Water" anthologies. -mrl]
As is usual, I take copious notes when reading a book in Spanish and--lucky you!--you get to read then! (You are lucky--the book is only about ninety pages long.)
Manguel first saw THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN when he was ten years old (in 1958) as part of a Sunday matinee triple feature in the local Buenos Aires 1930s movie palace. The other two films were FRANKENSTEIN and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (at least that is what I am assuming ABBOTT Y COSTELLO CONTRA LOS FANTASMAS is--and yes, it is *los* fantasmas, although it is misspelled "ABBOT", the first of many annoying typos in this edition). Strangely, the IMDB says that while ABBOTT Y COSTELLO CONTRA LOS FANTASMAS is the title for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in Spain and Mexico, the Argentinean title was ABBOTT AND COSTELLO CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN!
Anyway, even though he had never seen a Frankenstein movie before, he still had the "Platonic form" of Karloff as the Monster in his mind. However, he (and his friends) had no real fear in connection with the film, because everything in that Mitteleurope rural film was so alien to their life in the city considered the Paris of South America. Manguel also says he prefers the term ""terror" to "horror" in describing these films (as did Boris Karloff himself), in that terror expands the soul, while horror contracts it. (Perhaps a better way of expressing this in English is that one would feel terror in the face of a force such as a tsunami, but horror at a basement full of bugs.)
The Monster has a gigantic form, exceeding normal bounds, and is also the result of a gigantic imagination, exceeding normal (societal) bounds, on the part of its creator. (Manguel tends to refer to the creation as "el monstruo [de Frankenstein]" rather than "la creacion [de Frankenstein]".)
Manguel gives a brief history of Universal Studios and James Whale. After serving in WWI, Whale returned with an antipathy towards any authority, and a sense of "camp". He was also a snob (the Spanish for which is "esnob"!), and dismissed Karloff as merely a "truck driver" (which indeed Karloff had been, but still...).
Although THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was conceived by Universal as a continuation of the story, Whale never saw it as a sequel. Hence while the first film was tragic in tone, the second was pathetic in tone and even "grotesquely comical" at times. And while most of the principal actors were either carry-overs from the first film or under contract to Universal, Whale's sense of camp insisted on adding Una O'Connor and Ernest Theisiger. (When Theisiger was asked what about World War I made the biggest impression on him, he said, "The noise, my dear.")
As far as editing, Whale felt that the real editing should happen ahead of time, in the script and its shooting directions, rather than afterwards. But it still had to pass through the "menacing hands of the censors." The first film was made in 1931, before there was industry censorship. There were some cuts made on a state (or perhaps even local) level, but even the drowning of Maria was not cut from all prints until the film was re-released in 1937. But with THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Whale had to deal with Joseph Breen, who objected to any comparison of Dr. Frankenstein with God, any suggestion of the Creature having a physical relationship, and the use of the word "female". Later Breen added even more objections, but Whale managed to preserve most of his original conception.
[One learns the most interesting idioms reading other languages. As translated into Spanish, Whale manages to preserve his original concept "contra viento y marea"--"against wind and flood," or as we would say, "come hell or high water." What is surprising is how similar the idioms are.]
Manguel points out that the text prologue to THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (called, by the way, only BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on the title card of the film itself, but THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in all other materials) credits the original story, written by Mary Shelley in 1816, hence it permits us "to fix the year, to determine the epoch) of the story. And the dramatic prologue with Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron fixes it as well--yet clearly the first film took place over a hundred years after 1816, and the second must take place even later (my observation, not Manguel's). One could argue, I suppose, that she is telling a science fiction story set a hundred years in the future, but clearly her book is no such thing.
Manguel quotes Graham Greene as saying he hates this sort of scene, where one character says of another to a third something like, "You see that man over there? The world will hear much from him, mark my words. His name is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart." Nevertheless, we get this sort of introduction to who these people are, and in the process Byron says that Mary has "created a Frankenstein," thereby conflating the creation with the creator. [Actually, given that many critiques of the novel indicate that one of Dr. Frankenstein's major failings is in abandoning what is effectively a son, calling the creation "Frankenstein" is perhaps not entirely incorrect.] Later Praetorius does the same thing.
The purpose of the prologue, however, is not to set the date, or to tell the audience things that they already knew. It was, rather, a sop to the censors who objected to the "blasphemy" of the first film. By making THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN explicitly a fictional story told by Mary Shelley, this apparently removed the taint of blasphemy, at least enough to soothe the censors.
Manguel describes the Monster's face is the opposite of that of another screen icon, Greta Garbo. Where Garbo was beatifically and angelically empty, the Monster is subhuman and demoniacally full-- Manguel compares him to the portrait of Dorian Gray or to Mr. Hyde. There are conflicting stories of how Karloff was originally "discovered," but at any rate, Whale decided his face was the perfect base for his conception of the Monster. One problem, however, was that Karloff's eyes were too bright and intelligent ("comprensivo"), so wax caps were added to his eyelids to give them that half-closed look.
Jack Pierce takes credit for the look of the "crown, as if it were a lid," but the script actually describes it as looking like the lid of a box, so Pierce's story of how he spent a lot of time deciding that was the right look for the Monster seems perhaps a bit ... embellished. Neither were the bolts in the neck Pierce's idea--Karoly Grosz (the Universal Studios artist, not the Hungarian politician) drew them in a sketch in 1931.
When the Monster kills the old man in the mill, Manguel says, it is no accident, but premeditated. The Monster, he says, adopted the fate of the marginalized in adopting the impression that society has of him. He is seen as a rampaging monster, so he becomes one. [A bit of language synchronicity here: Manguel refers to the deaths being observed by a "buho"--a horned owl. "Buho" is also a Spanish word for hermit, and a hermit later figures importantly in the film!]
The campiness of Minnie's (Una O'Connor's) screams, Manguel claims, jars us from seeing the deaths from the point of view of the victims to seeing them from that of the Monster. (I think he attributes this to the unrealistic nature of Minnie's screams--we no longer take the film as realistic or "serious.) In response to Minnie's screams--"or rather, shrieks"--saying the Monster is alive, Manguel describes her as a "comical Cassandra." Henry's placement on the table mirrors that of the Monster's during his creation in the first film, and there is this mirroring throughout (Mary Shelley and the Monster's bride being played by the same actress, both Henry and the Monster desiring a bride, and so on). This is emphasized by Minnie's scream of "He's alive!" when Henry's hand moves; the phrase recurs a third time when the Bride comes to life. Manguel notes that in all three cases, it is the movement of the right hand that signals life, and says this hand is traditionally linked with the heart and the "vital energy." (It is?)
Manguel says that Clive is the most "envarado" of the cast--I think this probably means "wooden." At any rate, he elaborates that Clive seems to have only one facial expression for everything from exaltation to fear, and this wasn't helped by the fact that he torn the ligaments in his knees in a fall and spent a lot of the film seated or on crutches. Luckily, Henry is really a secondary character, with Karloff turning in the best performance of his career (in Manguel's opinion), and rest of the picture really belonging to "the unforgettable Bride and the infamous Doctor Praetorius."
When Minnie opens the door to Pretorius, she says his name seven times in "the next few seconds" (the translation inexplicably says "the next two seconds," which I'm sure is physically impossible). Manguel likens this to a medieval invocation of the Devil. Where Mary Shelley drew inspiration from Milton's "Paradise Lost", Whale drew from Goethe's "Faust". (Is that true, or is it rather than the screenwriter, William Hurlbut added the Faustian subtext?)
Manguel points out the emphasis on the four classical elements in Whale's "Frankenstein" films. The Monster is constructed of parts taken from the earth, and brought to life by lightning taken from the air. The Monster is first threatened with fire, then comes to see it as a friend. (One could also see the lightning as a form of fire.) The Monster (accidentally) drowns his first victim, is frightened by his reflection in the water, and finds another victim by the water.
Manguel also notes that while Shelley explains (albeit poorly) how the Monster learns to speak and read, in the films he seems to understand some words and sentences, particularly from the hermit, before we see him learn them. The hermit offers him bread and wine, the traditional substances of Communion. (The hermit could, after all, have offered water.) Though Manguel does not say this explicitly, this would appear to be what makes the Monster a full member of the human community, what (definitively) gives him a soul. Certainly he appears to have human attributes before this, but this might reinforce that for believers. How this got past the censors is not clear.
Though the hermit and Monster are perfectly content in the cottage, the villagers will not leave this "unnatural" pair alone. Manguel draws a connection between this and the treatment of gay couples in the 1930s, since he feels that it must have been one made by Whale (as a gay man in the 1930s).
Of the director of cinematography, Manguel writes, "[John J.] Mescall, who worked better when he was drunk, photographed the laboratory full of equipment and the fantastic operation from all possible angles with a tilted camera [Dutch angles]..." This sort of angled shot was first used in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and then widely in other German Expressionist films. It also showed up in THE THIRD MAN and the "Batman" television series and 1966 movie.
Manguel sees the Frankenstein myth as carrying through a huge swatch of literature and film: Doctor Moreau, the scientist in THE FLY, the Tin Man of Oz, the replicants of BLADE RUNNER, the dreaming man of Jorge Luis Borges's "The Circular Ruins", and the Terminator, as well as descended from the myths of Adam, Prometheus. and the Golem. But he also sees it as a metaphor for cinema: just as Frankenstein pieced together inanimate parts and gave them life, so does a filmmaker piece together still photographs and make them move--or at least make them appear to move.
Although he sees Shelley's creation as descended from the myths of Adam, Prometheus, and the Golem, he says that before the creation, all the monsters of literature either began born as monsters, or were not originally monsters, but were normal creatures transformed into monsters. Only with the creation of Shelley did we have something artificially created of parts of other creatures, so it began neither inherently evil nor inherently normal.
And indeed, our perception of the Monster itself has changed over time. For example, Manguel says, "in the Kenneth Branagh version he is more a victim than a rebel." (And would are more likely to says "the Monster himself" than "the Monster itself.") [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. --Sir Winston ChurchillTweet
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