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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 06/19/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 51, Whole Number 1863
Table of Contents
Tribute to Christopher Lee on Turner Classic Movies:
TCM will do their tribute to the late Christopher Lee on, Monday, June 22:
6:15 AM THE MUMMY (1959) 8:00 AM THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) 9:30 AM THE HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) 11:00 AM DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) 12:45 PM DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1969) 2:30 PM HORROR EXPRESS (1972) 4:00 PM THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) 6:00 PM THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1975)
Having THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1975) back-to-back is a special bonus. Richard Lester's film version of the Dumas are one epic story told over two films. People who know say that the swordplay is very authentic.
TCM's rundown on Christopher Lee: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/518774%7C31819/Christopher-Lee/
How Deflating! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Planet Money on NPR reports that there is to be a revival of the 1969 TV show THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, except that $6,000,000 just is not as impressive as it once was. The new show will be called THE SIX BILLION DOLLAR MAN. We are all impressed with a piece of technology that costs that much. But technology is technology. It does not get more expensive. It gets cheaper. What would you spend for the technology that cost $6,000,000 in 1969? Today it would be $12,000. He would be the $12,000 man. In the United States, the poverty level for a family of four is $24,250. A decent gardener probably makes that in a year. [-mrl]
We Have Lost a Great Actor (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A double horror film was playing downtown in Springfield, Massachusetts. Oddly it was playing at the Capitol. What genre films we got usually played at the dingier Paramount. The Capitol played the "better" films. But somehow they were showing HORROR OF DRACULA and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN--both from a company calling itself "Hammer". Both films had the same lead actors, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. As for Lee it was hard to tell he was the same actor. His face was covered with heavy horror makeup in the Frankenstein film. In HORROR OF DRACULA he played a new kind of screen vampire, smooth but at the same time big and animalistic. This was something new: horror films in color with high production values and bringing to life the classical monsters. These films kindled my love and admiration for Hammer Films, for Peter Cushing, and for Christopher Lee. In just four hours they made themselves my favorite actors. Why had I never heard of them before?
Frequently horror films are where film stars go at the end of their careers. Christopher Lee went in the other direction. He had such command of the stage that he dominated his films. Hero, villain, or monster, he had a natural attraction that one studio and one genre could not hold. Christopher Lee burst out and became an international star in a wide range of films, and he never apologized for his horror film roots.
There was little in Lee's background before his Hammer days to suggest he would become a major actor in a broad spectrum of films. His later swashbuckling roles were hinted at when he played a Spanish ship captain who has a swordfight with Gregory Peck in CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER (1951). He shows he has a real fencing style and on his worst day could probably have skewered Peck. And he was enough of a gentleman that that would have been his worst day.
Little could hold back this big (6'5"), exuberant actor whose career had its foundations in Hammer horror, but spread to a huge variety of films with frequent returns to the genre. In THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) when he played Rochefort opposite Charleton Heston's Richelieu, he had to walk in an off-camera ditch in scenes with Heston so as not to look too tall by comparison to the usually towering Heston (6'3"). Lee was a big man with lusty hold on life, yet by all accounts he was always a gentleman off-screen and on-screen, at least when the role allowed.
Of the films he was in, fantasy and horror predominated, but he could play in a very wide variety of films. He played a Bond villain in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974). He was a diver in the disaster film AIRPORT '77. He played comedies like 1941 (1979) and SERIAL (1980). He made at least one Western HANNIE CAULDER (1971). He was in an Italian Hercules film, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961). He is the only actor to portray three different characters in "Sherlock Holmes" films: he played Sherlock Holmes in SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE (1962), Mycroft Holmes in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970) and Sir Henry Baskerville in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959). Lee unashamedly returned ever and again to the fantastic films which he helped define and which in turn helped to define him. The IMDB lists 199 theatrical films he was in. Once the public had seen him as Dracula he never needed to look for work. He could be a horror star as long as he was never only a horror star. And he never was. His patrician-like bearing always spoke of the man's natural dignity. He was a direct descendent of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor and he wore his family's honor proudly even in his films.
Christopher Lee was a solid presence in any film he was in. He added dignity to a number of the major film franchises including James Bond, LORD OF THE RINGS, THE HOBBIT, and STAR WARS. Lee had the rare honor of being knighted for his film and charitable work.
The role Lee was most anxious to play and of which was the proudest of was the title figure in JINNAH (1998) in which he played the founder of Pakistan. The role of which he was fondest was Lord Summerisle in the WICKER MAN (1973). He will probably be best remembered as Dracula for my generation and Saruman from THE LORD OF THE RINGS for the next generation.
Christopher Lee died of respiratory problems and heart failure on June 7, 2015, at the age of 93. He will certainly be missed. He was an amazing man who led an extraordinary life. [-mrl]
Comments on the Film THE MUMMY and Its Sequels (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE MUMMY (1932) is a classic, but that does not mean that it has no flaws. For example, at the very beginning, it is hard to have sympathy with the young archaeologist, Ralph Norton. He seems far too interested in finding valuable "loot" and less interested in finding things that would advance our knowledge. That may have been a more accepted attitude at the time, but even in the film, the older archaeologists attempt to correct him.
Then, of course, Norton ignores the instructions he is given and decides to open the box and read the scroll, by which he awakens Im-Ho-Tep, who manages to walk out even though he seems rather lethargic. But pay attention, because this is basically the only time the viewer sees "the mummy" until the final few seconds of the films. Unlike the sequels (which were really a new series separate from this film), there is no mummy running around (or shambling around) terrorizing people.
The sign on the later expedition headquarters is much more elaborate than the earlier one, showing how their funding et al has improved. I mention this because it is not explicitly stated in the shooting script, so either the director or set designer made that decision.
Ardath Bey claims that Egyptians are forbidden to dig up the tombs themselves. If so, it was because the government preferred to take the money that foreigners would pay to be allowed to dig rather than let their own people do so.
While we're at it, the whole "Egyptian religion" thing is wrong in the films. The films make it seem as though the Egyptians (or large numbers of them, anyway) still believe in the ancient gods, think the tombs have curses on them, and so on. That Egypt then (and now) was an Islamic country with a large Christian minority, and no one who was trying to worship the old gods, seems to have escaped the filmmakers--or rather, the filmmakers wanted to present a pulp version of Egypt, full of mystery and exoticism, even if it was completely untrue. In 1932, no one in Hollywood was worried that they were presenting completely false stereotypes of Egyptians. Admittedly, the religion was more of an issue in the subsequent films than here, where Im-Ho-Tep was the only practitioner we see.
And of course, the fact that when the archaeologists call out that they will pay "double baksheesh" (the Arabic shouted out is translated in the shooting script as "double pay"), the enthusiastic reaction of the workers reinforces this (although if workers today were offered double pay, they would be enthusiastic too).
The archaeologists talk about their happiness in finding an "unplundered tomb," overlooking that they are now the plunderers that future archaeologists will complain about.
When Ardath Bey says, "I dislike to be touched--an Eastern prejudice," the scriptwriters have it completely backwards. It is Europeans who have a larger "personal zone", and Middle Easterner men who are friends will hold hands while walking down the street.
Another unrealistic touch is that when Helen faints, she falls gracefully, silently, and without injury. [-ecl]
THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE in the 06/12/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:
I sincerely hope you're reading an abridged version. I read the unabridged version in high school and recall it as an interminable series of lists of men, equipment and supplies. [-pr]
No, I'm reading the unabridged version, and currently I am at the end of the second volume of my three-volume Modern Library set. I tried the Penguin abridgement at one point and got the impression that it had cut out a lot of what I would have been interested in. I also started the unabridged once or twice from the library, but the problem is that one wants to read some, take a break, read some more, etc., which does not work very well when it has to go back to the library in two or three weeks. [-ecl]
High Intensity Behavioral Counseling (letter of comment by Steve Coltrin):
In response to Mark's comments on "High Intensity Behavioral Counseling" in the 06/12/15 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Coltrin writes:
Cue the office samizdat memo on "Special High Intensity Training": 'We are proud to give our employees more S.H.I.T. than any other company in the industry...' [-sc]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I first became aware of AMERIKA by Franz Kafka (ISBN 978-0-805-21161-0) when I saw a Romanian translation in a bookshop window in Bucharest. One of Kafka's lesser-known works, it is of interest because Kafka wrote about his main character Karl Rossman's immigrant experience in America without ever having been to America (or been an immigrant, for that matter). It is full of situations which are, well, Kafka-esque: Rossman's encounter with the stoker on the ship, his visit to Mr. Pollunder's mansion, his encounter in the boarding house, and so on. (The latter almost seems inspired by the scene in MOBY DICK where Ishmael is sent to the room he is to share with Queequeg, except that the roles are reversed, and Queequeg is the late arrival who finds the bed occupied.)
You could guess that Kafka had never visited America from the first paragraph, where Rossman sees "a sudden burst of sunshine seemed to illumine the Statue of Liberty, so that he saw it in a new light, although he had sighted it long before. The arm with the sword rose up as if newly stretched aloft..." As well it might, since the arm now (and then) stretched aloft is holding a torch, not a sword. And indeed the preface indicates that when he wrote AMERIKA, Kafka knew no Americans and very little of the English language. At the time, he described his knowledge of America as, "I know the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and I always admired Walt Whitman, and I like the Americans because they are healthy and optimistic."
Kafka's notion of the geography of the New York City area seems very "stylized"; one cannot locate the towns (cities?) of Butterford and Rameses and Clayton, but they all seem to have working underground trains and a character very unlike any real suburbs of New York.
Either Rossman is quite precocious, or Kafka lost track of what was going on, because Rossman is only fifteen years and eight months old when he is sent to America for having gotten a servant girl pregnant,
The book ends quite abruptly, while Karl is on his way to the Theatre of Oklahoma. (On the cover of the book and in the Preface, it is referred to as the "Nature Theatre of Oklahoma", but in the book itself, it is just called the "Theatre of Oklahoma".) It is just the last of a series of Kafka-esque episodes Karl finds himself in. The atmosphere of these reminded me of a Cohen Brothers movie, particularly BARTON FINK.
THE DEATH OF CAESAR by Barry Strauss (ISBN 978-1-4516-6879-7) is a fairly thorough, yet mercifully short, coverage of the assassination of Julius Caesar--what led up to it, what exactly happened, and what the ultimate results were. Most history books written for the mass audience (as much of a mass audience as there is for history, anyway) seem to be a thousand pages long, so something in the three-hundred-page range is a welcome relief. Strauss has written several other books of this sort about the ancient world, including THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS and THE SPARTACUS WAR.
At the very end, Strauss resorts to quoting literary and popular culture, first with a quote from the Italian novel THE LEOPARD by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa ("If we want everything to stay the same, everything has to change.") and then with one from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE ("When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."). I cannot endorse the latter, but the truth of the former is often demonstrated. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. --Mark TwainTweet
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