MT VOID 01/10/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 28, Whole Number 2101

MT VOID 01/10/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 28, Whole Number 2101


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/10/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 28, Whole Number 2101

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net Sending Address: evelynchimelisleeper@gmail.com All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe or unsubscribe, send mail to eleeper@optonline.net The latest issue is at http://www.leepers.us/mtvoid/latest.htm. An index with links to the issues of the MT VOID since 1986 is at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/back_issues.htm.

Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards:

Technical Achievement Awards

Lifetime Achievement Awards

Special Achievement Awards

Founded in 1997, the Online Film Critics Society (http://www.ofcs.org) is the largest and oldest Internet-based film journalism organization. Over 250 members from two dozen countries voted in this year's awards.

[Mark is a member of the OFCS.]


KING KONG (1933) Obersvations (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I participated in an on-line discussion of that venerable classic film KING KONG (1933). We watched the film and made comments. We participants wrote our observations. This article is based on my comments.

KING KONG is among my favorite films of all time. I am not sure it is one of the three or four best films, but it is one of the greatest films. The results of the filmmaking process may not have made it one of the best films, but so much was invented and so much imagination went into it that the result is greater than its story. KING KONG was the STAR WARS of its day and more. Both films may have had hokey stories but amazing visuals, both had huge imagination in the design, and both were big inspirations for the next generation of filmmakers.

That said, I would also say that much of this article will be negative. I think we all have heard most of the good things to say about KING KONG. The mistakes and problems are much less commonly noted. It is frequently said that Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation in KING KONG is unsurpassed today. No disrespect to a film I so greatly admire, but the fledgling visual techniques have been surpassed. The film is full of problems with the visual effects that you do not see in films like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. For example when a screen image is made of multiple elements, they are not well integrated. On my most recent viewing I noticed for the first time that when the native chieftain and some of his followers stand at the top of the wall their image jitters left and right with respect to the wall. These days that is considered to be a very bad problem. In 1933 I doubt that most of the viewers noticed and cared.

There are other problems that would be better handled today. Especially there is the concern for consistency in Kong's appearance. O'Brien seemed to take little care to make the look of Kong's face consistent from one model of Kong to another. One Kong will have large nostrils, another will have smaller ones. The viewer can distinguish at least three different looks for Kong's face depending on which model is being used. For that matter Kong's size is not uniform either. On the island Kong is consistently eighteen feet tall, and O'Brien wanted to keep the size at eighteen feet for the New York sequences. But co-director Merian C. Cooper wanted to adjust the size of backgrounds that would show off Kong to best effect, so Kong's scale changed from scene to scene.

When dinosaurs are shown in rear projection the images make them look three or four times a realistic size. When Denham and company walk around the stegosaurus it is huge. Having the actors walk a treadmill does not really work. The speed of the treadmill is not well matched to the image in the background. Later the brontosaurus neck in the water just looks like a rigid model. Still much of this gets lost of the excitement.

One problem with the visuals that I have always found amusing and nobody else seems to notice: When Kong climbs onto one of the roofs in Manhattan you see the top part of an electric sign with vertical lettering behind him. The sign is dark, then it flashes M; then it flashes MA; then without taking time to light up any more letters it goes dark ands starts over. So even if you could see the whole sign it would only say "Ma".

As original as KING KONG was, it was in large part a reframing of THE LOST WORLD (1925). The 1933 film borrowed heavily from the plot of the 1925 film and from the book THE LOST WORLD, and it major modifications are there because directors and producers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack where projecting themselves into to the story with Carl Denham being an amalgam of the two of them. (Incidentally, Merian C. Cooper had a life so amazing and exciting even a Steven Spielberg could not do justice to it.) The plot of Kong is really what you would get if you took that of THE LOST WORLD and forced in a filmmaker like Cooper and Schoedsack.

In Arthur Conan Doyle's novel THE LOST WORLD he had the expedition bringing back a pterodactyl that gets loose in London, but is hardly noticed. To make it a more visual story and one with more easily accomplished special effects the 1925 film instead had the captured animal be a brontosaurus (now called "apatosaurus"). Willis O'Brien was more experienced at animating sauropods like the apatosaurus. For KONG the filmmakers made the captured and later escaped animal a giant ape, of course. And there were the other obvious changes. They changed the nature of the expedition for KONG also. It was not a scientific expedition but a filmmaking excursion.

Personally, I keep wondering where on Kong's island the great ape could possibly live. We know he lives someplace relatively near the gate. It does not take him very long to respond to the Kong Gong. It takes about thirty seconds of screen time, which seems to mean he was impossibly close by. On the other hand Kong seems to get in a life-and-death fight every hour or so. In one day he fights three different breeds of prehistoric beasts. He manages to always survive because he is the biggest, meanest thing on the island. But if you watch the fights it is always a near thing. He could not survive long in this environment, and an animal of his weight being that active would need to take in a lot of biomass energy in his diet. It is not clear he could ever move his body as energetically as he does just due to square-cube law restrictions. So for me this is no less a mystery, and no more, than the question of where his mate and his parents are or were. I hate to say it but I guess the best answer to this sort of question is that it is just a story. If we can accept that there is just one giant ape on this island no mates no (or perhaps one) offspring it is not so hard to assume he Kong has found a safe place to live and enjoy being worshipped by the natives. They even have dances in his honor though I have never figured out where the natives got the fur they use for the Kong dance.

In some ways the script is contrived. For example the natives come to kidnap Ann. They climb the ship's ladder and Ann is conveniently standing right there. It is not at all clear how they would have nabbed her if they hadn't been so lucky. They were not really prepared to scour a hostile ship for her. But Ann was just where she would be in the most danger. Later in New York Kong seems to have to look in only two or three hotel rooms to find Ann. What are the chances of that in Manhattan?

Let me switch sides and defend the film on a couple of points. One question I hear frequently asked is if the natives wanted to keep Kong out of their side of the wall, why did they ever put a gate in so wide that Kong could get out through it. It is a smart-alecky question and people who ask it rarely stick around for an answer. I think it makes perfect sense. They expect the bolt to be strong enough to keep Kong out, but if Kong ever got over or through the wall suddenly Mr. Wall would be no longer their friend. Getting Kong back to his usual side would be a hard enough task even with a Kong-size gap in the gate. It is all-important to avoid being trapped on one small strip of the island with an angry ape-god.

It is frequently asked what Kong has done with his previous brides. There has been the suggestion that he might eat them. Gorillas are generally assumed to be herbivores, but the truth is nobody is certain if they really are or not. Monkey DNA has been found in the dung of some gorillas. That is considered evidence that they sometimes eat smaller animals, though that has not been observed and is not really proof. My opinion is that he plays with them to death not unlike what small children will do with pets. (Well, no. My opinion is that it is just a story, but if I had to find a likely explanation, that would be it.) Remember in the 1933 version of the story Ann is in mortal peril the entire time she is with Kong. Unlike EVERY later version of the story, in 1933 Ann shows absolutely no sympathy for Kong. To her Kong is all threat. It is surprising that she does not protest more when after several men have been killed trying to save her from Kong, Denham turns around and is ready to use Ann as bait to get the monster. Later a reporter says, "Denham's taking no chances." Is he kidding? Denham does nothing BUT take chances.

It is somewhat ironic that Carl Denham tries to calm the Broadway audience by telling them the Kong's bonds are made of "chrome steel." Chrome steel is really stainless steel. It looks better than standard steel because it will not rust, but it is not as strong. If Carl Denham had used carbon steel instead of chrome steel he might have ended up a millionaire. (I guess he does end a millionaire in SON OF KONG).

Denham's plan for entertaining a Broadway audience is to show them Kong and then to just stand up in front of the audience and tell the story of the capture. Can you imagine how dull an evening that would be--just listening to Denham talking? I suspect that that idea may have been left over from an earlier version of the script that would open with the Broadway scenes, Denham would show the audience Kong and then the whole story of the capture would be done as a flashback so that the film audience would be seeing the story even if the Broadway audience was not. Interesting piece of trivia: when you see the exteriors of the Broadway theater with stock footage of crowds outside waiting to get in, that stock footage was actually taken at the premier of Charlie Chaplin's 1931 film CITY LIGHTS.

There are other problems with the script. Denham complains that the critics say, "This film would gross twice as much if it had love interest." That is the whole reason that Ann is taken along. Do you know what Denham forgot? That it takes two people to have a love interest. There is nobody who is supposed to be Ann's love interest in Denham's film. The plan is not to have her love the as-yet unknown Kong. Ann asks how the island will be recognized. She is reminded that it has a mountain that looks like a skull. She says she forgot. How likely is it she would forget that detail? Also I am curious what Ann is doing while Kong is using two hands and two feet to climb the Empire State Building. I assume for most she is holding on to King for dear life. Though they forget to show you in the film, the wind that high up on the building averages twenty miles per hour.

The film KING KONG has become an iconic myth of American cinema and even with all the faults I find with it, it well deserves all the admiration it gets.

Hey, in the film Carl Denham asks for some huskies to carry his stuff.

Question: How can you tell they are Denham's huskies?

Answer: they have a Norwegian bark.

[-mrl]


STAR WARS (film comments by Joe Karpierz):

Entertainment--whether it be movies, television, radio, books, podcasts, whatever--is a funny thing. Tastes vary widely from person to person and from one type of entertainment to another. What one person likes from a particular entertainment entity may be totally different from what another person likes from the same thing, and a third person will invariably wonder if the first two people are seeing the same thing, and dislike that thing totally and completely. The key to having opinions, I think, is to be able articulate *why* you like or dislike something, not just to say that something is good or that something stinks. Tell me why you feel that way; it makes for interesting discussion. And we must realize that these are opinions.

You may be able to see where I'm going with this. :-)

Last night my wife and I went to see STAR WARS THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Once again, this movie has divided fans (now there's a surprise), as has every movie in the sequel trilogy, and once again for different reasons than the movie that came before it. I'm going to flat out say this: We loved the movie, thought it was terrific, and felt that it was the perfect way to end the Skywalker saga.

"Okay Karpierz", I hear you say, "put your money where your mouth is. *Why* did you love the movie, think it was terrific, and was the perfect way to end the Skywalker saga?"

I'm glad you asked. If you thought I've been long winded already, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.

I liked it because it was, first and foremost, a "Star Wars" movie. It was good vs. evil (always a "Star Wars" thing). It was about family (always a "Star Wars" thing). And there's the little thing about redemption (yeah, that's a "Star Wars" thing too).

"Yeah" I hear you say, "but it's been done before." Okay, fair. Then again, so what? "Star Wars" is not meant to be some critically successful set of art films that will win buckets and buckets of awards; it's meant to be entertainment for the masses. I'm not disappointed that I've seen this plot before; heck, I'd be surprised if I hadn't (And oh yes, just to let you know, I loved THE LAST JEDI in part because it was a departure from the norm and in part because it made me think about what I expect out of "Star Wars" and it made me reflect on what it's like to be, well, old.) seen this plot before.

Let's recap: Good vs. evil (or light vs. dark. Come on, Rey wears white, Kylo wears black. How much more obvious can you get?). I like a rollicking good vs. evil story.

Then there's the family thing. Well, I can't go too deeply into the family thing because, you know, spoilers. But it's there in multiple ways, and tugs at the heartstrings (hold that thought for a bit).

Same thing for redemption. Spoilers. But it's consistent.

"Ah", you say "there's some stuff that needs explaining." You know, I can't argue against that. Once again, spoilers (my guess is that a majority of you that have stuck around this long have probably seen the movie already, but just in case, I'll keep my mouth shut on the spoilers). It's a bit frustrating to me that the movie even acknowledges that somewhat big elephant in the room but waltzes by it.

But you know, it's "Star Wars". [-jak]


Memory and MOBY-DICK (letter of comment by John Hertz):

In response to Mark's comments on memory in the 11/08/19 issue of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:

If not for what Mark has been reporting about his health, I'd respond to his note on memory "What do you care what other people think?"

My own experience leads me to believe we human beings store all kinds of stuff in memory, maybe even to the extent some folks call eidetic; lots of it goes into cold storage and can be hard to retrieve; to some extent recollection can be refreshed; practically speaking we vary widely on what comes to mind when. Jerry Pournelle (who was my friend; as I've said elsewhere, we met for lunch and disagreed) was proud of his good memory. Toward the end, bad health interfered. He was disheartened until, as he said, he realized he then had the same kind of memory Niven had all Niven's life.

In response to Evelyn's comments on MOBY-DICK in the same issue, John writes:

MOBY-DICK. That Melville sure can write. I was recently given a copy of the Penguin Classics edition, b y which I mean the 2003 paperback based on the 1988 Northwestern University--Newberry Library text with 1992 notes and glossary by Tom Quirk--what a name for this.

MD is a towering example of a superb book that needs glossing. I'm reminded of the teaching machine in GILES GOAT-BOY (J. Barth, Doubleday [hello, Fred Lerner] 1966; nota bene, Heinlein after GILES likened STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, Putnam 1961, to it) at which while the presented a text you could push a button "gloss", and push it again to gloss the gloss, and --

The Quirk glossary is helpful as far as it goes but its omissions are hard to account for. For example, starting with MD Page 1, Quirk rightly has "hypos" and "Manhattoes", but omits Cato. Melville thought his readers would probably know him; I submit that if Quirk, or Penguin, thought so of their readers, he or they were mistaken. Evelyn's glossary based on the P Classics ed'n http://leepers.us/Evelyn/mobydick.htm tells us. For two more soon after, in ch. 2 Quirk does not but Evelyn does gloss "ash box" (p. 10 of the ed'n I cite) and "pea coffee" (p. 11). She is alas too prone to e.g. "This is probably due to Melville's having to leave school at age fifteen to help support his family, and hence receiving only a partial classical education" despite ample (a word for MD!) evidence that Melville was portraying Ishmael.

I have a story about Boris K (MT VOID 2095, vol. 38 no. 22, 29 Nov 19), Forry Ackerman, and me, but the margin is too small to contain it. [-jh]


This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Some Civil War sightseeing we did recently was the short version of the first tour in CIVIL WAR ROAD TRIP (VOLUME I): A GUIDE TO NORTHERN VIRGINIA, MARYLAND & PENNSYLVANIA 1861-1863: FIRST MANASSAS TO GETTYSBURG by Michael Weeks (Countryman Press, ISBN 978-0-88150- 963-3). Most of the tours were three or four days long, but this one was one day (or two, if you went into the Shenandoah Alley). Since we wanted to see some other things during the week we were taking, and since this covered the start of the conflict in Virginia this seemed perfect.

The biggest problem was finding one's way from site to site. It would be very difficult if you used only the directions in the book and had to read them while driving. Even with a navigator, you have to stick to the route. Veer off onto a side trip, and you might have problems finding your way back. A GPS helps a lot, but some sites are just plaques by the side of the road. (The book does give latitude and longitude.)

Supposedly this tour ends up at Manassas Battlefield, but we never made it there. Maybe we're just moving slower, or we spend more time in the museums than others, or we dawdled over lunch, or something. It was also a problem that sunset came early (about 4:30PM). If we were doing this in the summer, we would have had another two or three hours.

However, we had seen Manassas Battlefield before, but not the other sites, such as the Fairfax Museum and Blackburn's Ford. I still think that a first-time Civil War trip should probably stick to the major sites, and save some of these for a later in-depth visit.

One thing that is good about these tours is that they are chronological, following a single campaign or period. Most people see the sites geographically, e.g., Antietam (09/62), Harpers Ferry (10/59), First Manassas (07/61), Second Manassas (08/62), and Fredericksurg (12/62), which means there is no sense of the flow of the war when you see them.

We might do the Gettysburg Tour at some point in the future, but time will tell. [-ecl]



                                          Mark Leeper
                                          mleeper@optonline.net

Quote of the Week:

          As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.
                                          --Mark Twain, 
                                            PUDD'NHEAD WILSON
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