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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 11/20/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 21, Whole Number 1885
Table of Contents
Reflections in a Wine Glass (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am generally fairly positive on Turner Classic Movies. But I have no connection to the station, though I like it quite a bit. But just to show I am not just a rubber stamp of approval I can say that I think they have gone a little cockeyed with the TCM Wine Club. It is like a Wine of the Month Club where each wine will be matched to a film it is particularly appropriate for. They may pick one wine to go with THE LOST WEEKEND and another to go with THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. I suppose they would need a special wine to go with LEAVING LAS VEGAS.
Thank you, I will wait for the TCM Peanut Butter Club. E.T., anyone? [-mrl]
The Crimes of Film Subtitle Writers (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am a fan of international cinema and I am pleased that I live at a time in which foreign-language films are readily available for video. Many of these films allow for two modes of home video watching. They can be seen in their original language with subtitles, or they can be dubbed into English. However this creates a dilemma for you as the viewer. If you want to appreciate a film in its original form, is it better to watch it with subtitling or dubbing? I had thought that I had said my fill on the subject in my column entitled "Sometimes Dubbing is Better than Subtitling." But more on the issue has come up. The original article was in the issue of the VOID from September 6, 2013.
At that time I wanted it to be my last word on the subject. Sadly no, just like Michael Corleone when I thought I was out I got pulled back in. More recently I heard on a podcast a discussion of the question. Two pundits were talking about how much harm dubbing did to the spirit of the film. It seems to me that bad subtitling can damage the spirit of the film just as effectively as bad dubbing. There have been films which have been ruined for me because there have been stretches of film in which I could not tell at all what was being said in spite of the subtitling.
Now it is not like there is a closely guarded secret on how to do subtitles that can be read. There are films in which the subtitles are extremely readable. I doubt that there is a patent on subtitling with letters in some color that is uncommon in the film so it is easy to pick out what is and is not part of the subtitles. Nor is there in making the letters of reasonable size with contrasting boundaries. It is hard to believe how many films there are that appear to have the subtitles slapped on with no going back to see if the result works.
It occurred to me that there are many, many and frequent abuses, some more obvious than others. As I say, a lot would be caught by simply running the film and proofreading the subtitles. It strikes me as odd that you can have a good film, obviously a work of art, but nobody takes the time and effort to sit through the film and to look at the results of the subtitling and then fix what is not working.
I just recently watched an important documentary, BECAUSE I WAS A PAINTER. The film tells a compelling story, or it would have if the viewer could have told what was being said in the subtitles. White subtitles appeared on a white background through much of the film. This renders the subtitles all but unreadable.
As an aside I remember a lot of Asian films with subtitles in which the letters were ragged and looked like they had been burned into the film. I found out recently why these subtitles looked burned into the film. It was a process that is a near relative to how metal castings are done with a "lost wax" process. The celluloid you want to print on is covered with a thin coat of wax. The words are punched into a zinc strip with a type process. The strip is then placed over the celluloid covered with the wax and the letters are punched into the wax. Then the film is dipped into bleach where most of the film is protected from the bleach by the wax. But where there were holes in the wax the bleach could get to the film and would bleach it leaving little clear letters on the film. With a process like that it is a wonder that these films ever built an international market.
So what sorts of problems turn up in modern film subtitling?
I often know just enough of the foreign language to realize I am getting an inaccurate translation. And it is a distraction. Frequently the language is bowdlerized so it will not alarm people with delicate sensitivities. This is a problem with dubbing also, incidentally. Spelling errors are not at all uncommon. Sometimes the subtitle writer will use a long pretentious word when there are much simpler works that convey the same meaning. Or the reverse can happen. The subtitle writer will simplify the language, but lose the original meaning.
I recently saw a film in which the subtitling was in white letters with black boundaries. That sounds like it should not be too bad. It worked fine until a woman appeared in the foreground with a white bodice trimmed in black. It hand little thin lines of black going off in all directions. The viewer had to stare at the woman's chest to make out little letters. The film just happened to have a background that camouflaged the letters of the subtitles.
Then there is the subtitle that shows on the screen for just a small fraction of a second before it is pulled away. This can happen when the dialog is fast and snappy, but it also happens when there is no dialog that it needs to be replaced by. Some films require you to have taken the Evelyn Wood course to get the subtitles read.
I have seen subtitles that are unreadable because they go off the screen or cover up other titles or even action at the bottom part of the screen. The nice thing about sound from dubbing is that sound goes in all directions. For subtitle reading you need to be looking at the bottom of the screen and your eyes shift from the titles at your own peril. You miss actors' facial expression and even the art design of the film.
I have seen a print of THE MAD ADVENTURES OF RABBI JACOB for which the subtitles ran on one reel 30 seconds after the lines were spoken. Someone made a serious mistake and nobody caught it.
The moral of this is the filmmakers must take on an added responsibility. They really need to proofread the subtitles and make sure they are properly written and legibly presented. [-mrl]
Comments on the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Television Series (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The old MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE television is fun to watch, but one has to suspend a *lot* of belief to accept that any of their plans would work.
For example, in the first season we have:
- "The Wheel", which depends on a government trying to rig an election by relying on a few thousand votes in a single machine to do it. Also, election officials are willing to let three or four people stay behind a closed curtain in a voting booth with the rigged machine while the people are supposedly treating someone who has collapsed. *And* the guard helping to carry the stretcher does not notice it is a couple of hundred pounds heavier than it should be.
- "The Ransom", which relies on someone in a hotel taking a drink of water from the bathroom tap. Even given that back then people did not rely on bottled water as much, they still are assuming that when he turns on the tap, it will be to take a drink of water, not to wash his hands, or splash water on his face. Then they seem to have co-opted most of a hospital, with fake doctors and nurses, and a gimmicked X-ray table. And this is not even for an "official" mission!
- "The Wire", where they find a recording wire in a foreign resort in one day that the entire security force of the country has been unable to find in weeks.
- "Carriers", where the recorder at the beginning is perfectly visible to anyone who goes into the photo booth.
- The identical elevator display is in the Slavic country in "Carriers" and in the US at the beginning of "Zubrovnik's Ghost".
And of course the whole premise that this force can choose to refuse jobs makes one wonder what exactly their status is. On the one hand they seem to be able to acquire any resources they need for a job--chemicals, devices, vehicles (including ambulances), uniforms of all sorts--and not just in the United States, but also in hostile foreign countries. On the other, they seem to be total freelancers, taking whatever jobs they want and refusing the rest. And in either case, who is paying them, and how much? [-ecl]
FLUTTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A compulsive gambler starts placing bets with a beautiful new bookie who wants to bet on the gambler and what he will do for money. The gambler agrees to more and more perverse bets. Giles Borg directs a screenplay by Stephen Leslie. There are no special effects here, no gunshots, no explosions. It is just actors and settings in front of a camera, but the story keeps the viewers guessing even what genre it is in. Is it science fiction? Horror? Fantasy? Is it a cautionary tale? Where will the premise take the viewer? Fans of Roald Dahl will enjoy a story that could have easily come from his pen. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
It has been a while since I have seen a simple little macabre fantasy as a current film. Except for its length this is the kind of story that could have appeared on the old "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television show or, even more likely, Roald Dahl's "Tales of the Unexpected". There are no gunshots, no explosions, and no special effects. It is just a fun and slightly creepy little morbid tale.
"Flutter" is British slang. A flutter is a small bet. It is the sort of bet that is placed early on in FLUTTER. However, it is not long before the bets become a lot more than mere flutters. Our story follows John (played by Joe Anderson) who explains how he is a smart gambler and just plays the odds intelligently. His intelligent bet-placing is not quite proving itself yet. As it is his gambling is poisoning his marriage and getting John into trouble with his bookies. He really needs money and can concentrate on very little if it does not have something to do with the dog track. He gets a tip on a dog from his dentist (Billy Zane). The bet pays off and in collecting his winnings John sees that there is a new bookie at the track, Stan (Anna Anissimova), the first woman bookie he has ever seen. He is attracted to Stan, and starts to place bets with her. But he discovers that Stan is much more interested in unconventional bets. For example, will Joe pull his own broken tooth without anesthetic to win 2000 pounds? Why does Stan want these strange bets that are losing her a lot of money? But John may be losing more than money.
Speaking of money, not a lot went into this film, because not much was needed. This shows just how much creativity can go into a low- budget film. The opening title sequence has nice animations. There is a long tracking shot that shows the viewer around the seedy world of on-track dog racing. The only actor I found familiar was Billy Zane. So the actors were not a huge expense. They are mostly good actors from Britain. The only drawback is that the voices are a little hard to make out through the British accent.
The IMDB lists FLUTTER as a 2011 film. Why it has not gotten an earlier release in the United States is one of the mysteries of this film, but not one the viewer gets much of an answer to. It should please fans of the strange in cinema. It is certainly worth checking out. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1579951/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/flutter_2015/
The Marching Morons (letter of comment by Steve Milton):
In response to Evelyn's comments on "The Marching Morons" in the 11/13/15 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:
I read this story and another story in the same setting. There was a premise given either in one of the stories or a forward about how the situation came about. The idea was that poor people are poor because they are stupid (rather than lazy). Also that poor people have more kids than rich (and that they seldom married each other). Supposedly the stupid poor people produced progressively more stupid offspring until the average IQ was somewhere around 50. At that point the "normal" people ran the world from side-lines with the help of automation. They generally had what appeared to be menial jobs. In the other story, the "normal" person was the janitor in a science lab staffed by "morons". [-smm]
WHEN WORLS COLLIDE (letters of comment by Philip Chee and Andre Kuzniarek):
In response to Evelyn's comments on WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE in the 11/13/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:
[Evelyn wrote,] "1. How can they predict to the minute when the effects of Zyra will be felt?"
Rich Purnell did the math. It checks out. [-pc]
[That's a reference to THE MARTIAN. -ecl]
[Evelyn wrote,] "2. Why are they wasting time and resources to print tear-off calendars with "X days to Bellus" on them when they could just chalk a number on the wall?"
Isn't that a standard movies convention seen in many films from that era? [-pc]
[Yes, but it's silly. -ecl]
[Evelyn wrote,] "7. How is an area with such an evidently temperate climate right outside the door when they have landed on a giant patch of snow and ice?"
Ridiculous movie geography also applies to alien planets. [-pc]
Regarding the final scene of the film, Andre Kuzniarek writes:
This fits into some previous discussions about how far to go when restoring films, and it's a loaded topic when it comes to movies that use special effects, since the methods for creating illusions keeps getting better all the time. In this particular case I would be willing to see that "correction" happen if the results were essentially the same scenery, but rendered such that they were less distracting than an obviously fake illustration. In other words, have it done by a more talented matte painter, or via software if it preserves the spirit of the original. I think that would fulfill the filmmaker's intent without trying to guess what was in the full extent of their imagination, otherwise you wouldn't know where to stop. George Lucas has been in a situation of having the means to finally put what was in his head on the screen, but I agree with the fans who consider this to be going too far. I think one has to stop at the point where you are not simply correcting limited effects work and instead adding more content or changing the meaning of things. Or if going that direction, at least have the courtesy to release it as a separate "Director's Cut", as Ridley Scott has done with BLADE RUNNER.
Going back to George Pal, I think the most urgent case of needing some touching up is in WAR OF THE WORLDS where the Martian war machines have visible wires. It was clearly the intent of the filmmakers to hide those wires, which was possible at the time when projected prints went through a couple generations of duplication. Image quality was lost as a normal process of distribution, and they could count on their illusions working as planned. But now on Bluray scanned from the original negatives or prints, the workings are made plainly visible and distract from the experience. I wish the production house releasing this film would restore the filmmaker's intent in that regard. Pal would embarrassed and would not accept the argument that the film should be preserved exactly as it is when the original negative or print was not the film he was putting in front of moviegoers at the time. [-ak]
Mark wrote about the wires in the 02/21/14 issue of the MT VOID-- and Andre responded then regarding them as well (in the 02/28/14 issue). [-ecl]
"Wait. Wait. Don't Tell Me." and Poetry (letter of comment by Peter Trei):
In response to Mark's comments on poetry in the 11/13/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:
The point of WWDTM and similar 'game shows' on both NPR and the BBC is as much, or more, the witty banter of the more or less unchanging set of contestants as it is the game. The game serves as an excuse to for them to tell stories.
The use of poetry and/or iambic pentameter is a great aid to the *speaker*, much more so than to the listener.
This is speech which is supposed to be delivered from memory. The structure provides a guide for recall.
Think of Homer's works, and other epic stories from a pre-literate cultures. They are all in verse, which makes them far easier to memorize.
I'm willing to bet you could memorize a song a lot easier than a unstructured speech of similar length. I know I can. [-pt]
The meter helps both the speaker and the listener. Whom it helps most is a moot point. My assumption would be that the poet cares more for the effect on the listener than the effect on the person reciting. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
BALTASAR AND BLIMUNDA by Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero) (ISBN 978-0-15-600520-3) is a novel of magical realism, if not out-and-out fantasy. One person is building a flying machine, another has what appears to be X-ray vision, and a third, by means of prosthetics for his missing hand, has superhuman abilities in handling things. (For example, his hook can handle hot objects without being burned and sharp objects without being cut.) Oddly enough, the flying machine is not entirely fantastical--the real Padre Bartolomeu du Gusmao is today considered a pioneer in the field of aviation.
Saramago has refined his cynicism to a level equal to Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and other great satirists. For example, Saramago describe the auto-da-fe thusly: "the auto-da-fe is spiritually elevating and constitutes an act of faith, with its stately procession, the solemn declaration of the sentences, the dejected appearances of those who have been condemned, the plaintive voices, and the smell of the charred flesh as their bodies are engulfed by the flame and whatever little fat remains after months of imprisonment starts to drip on the embers." [page 39] That is, he starts with a description of great dignity and solemnity, gradually moves to an emotional description of the condemned, and then hits the reader with the slap in the face of a graphic description of charred bodies and dripping fat. "Wake up," he seems to be saying. "All this talk of serving God in this sacred ceremony is a load of horse puckey. This is brutal and horrifying and describing it any other way is obscene."
He also takes aim at hypocrisy (or I should say maybe other types of hypocrisy, since making an auto-da-fe something elevating is to my mind hypocrisy) when he writes, "[The King] will join the Chief Inquisitor for a sumptuous feast at tables laden with bowls of chicken broth, partridges, breasts of veal, pates and meat savouries flavoured with cinnamon and sugar, a stew in the Castilian manner with all the appropriate ingredients and saffron rice, blancmanges, pastries, and fruits in season. But the King is so abstinent that he refuses to drink any wine..." [pg 41] Indeed, this is an odd sort of abstinence.
Saramago gets the Immaculate Conception wrong when he writes, "[The] much-quoted immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary occurred but once so that our world might know that Almighty God, when He so chooses, has no need of men, though He cannot dispense with women." [pg 9] Clearly he is implying that the Immaculate Conception was the conception of Jesus without an earthly father, but in fact it is the conception of Mary without the stain of Original Sin.
But is it possible this is intentional? At another point, Saramago writes parenthetically of Padre Bartolomeu's lectures, "Iuris ecclesiastici universi libri tre, Colectanea doctorum tam veteram quam recentiorum in ius pontificum universum, Reportorium iuris civilis et canonici, et coetera." [page 135] According to my go-to Latin translator, "tre" should be "tres", "Colectanea" should be "Collectanea", and "et coetera" should be "et cetera", not to mention the noun declensions being wrong. Given that it is identical in the original Portuguese, the Spanish translation, and two editions of the English translation, this might suggest that Saramago was having a bit of fun with the pretentiousness of priests (and others) using Latin in an attempt to impress.
[Google Translate gave me "Of ecclesiastical law of the universe of the book tre, Colectanea of pontifical law of the doctors, both the old as modern ones in the universe, Reportorium of civil law and canon law, and the other," which is why I went to a real person to translate the translation.)
And later, Saramago writes of "the first five books [of the Old Testament], the so-called Pentateuch, which is known as the Torah among the Jews, and as the Koran among the followers of Mohammed." [page 164] Surely *this* must be an intentional mistake--I cannot believe that a copy editor would let this go by!
And he also has the priests saying that October 22, 1730, will be a Sunday (true), and also that October 22, 1740, will be a Sunday as well (false--it will be a Saturday). (He does say for the second calculation, "They struggled with their arithmetic and replied with some uncertainty.") All in all, I think these mistakes mostly attributable to priests in the story are purposeful, and intended to cast the Catholic Church in an even worse light than the descriptions of the Inquisition does.
Saramago talks about numeracy and mathematics, and relates a string of associations: "... you can begin with the first word, which is the House of Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ died for all of us we are told, and now the two words, which are the Tables of Moses, where, we are told, Jesus Christ placed His feet, and now the three words, which are the three persons of the Holy Trinity, we are told, ..." and so on through thirteen words. This sounds very much like the monologue of "The Soldier and the Deck of Cards" (made popular in 1948 by T. Texas Tyler, but dating back to the 18th century), though using numbers for the face cards rather the images themselves. (Actually, so does "The Soldier and the Deck of Cards" when it adds up the spots to get the number of days in the year.)
Saramago has a character describe the Portuguese as "a race known for its pride and lack of perseverance," and one suspects this may reflect Saramago's own thoughts. This is a common enough combination of characteristics that one often sees in individuals, and in countries.
(In passing, I will not that this king is King Joao V, not the King Joao III of THE ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY.)
All in all, this is a rich novel, and definitely has its science fictional and early aviation aspects (though I guarantee that the real Padre Bartolomeu du Gusmao did not use the same method of buoyancy that Saramago attributes to him here). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught. --Oscar Wilde, 1891Tweet
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