Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/20/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 21, Whole Number 1885

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Reflections in a Wine Glass (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        The Crimes of Film Subtitle Writers (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        Comments on the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Television Series
                (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        FLUTTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        The Marching Morons (letter of comment by Steve Milton)
        WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (letters of comment by Philip Chee
                and Andre Kuzniarek)
        "Wait.  Wait.  Don't Tell Me." and Poetry (letter of comment
                by Peter Trei)
        This Week's Reading (BALTASAR AND BLIMUNDA) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: 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]


TOPIC: The Crimes of Film Subtitle Writers (comments by Mark R.

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

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]


TOPIC: 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

- "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"

- "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]


TOPIC: 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

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:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: 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]


TOPIC: WHEN WORLDS 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]

Evelyn notes:

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]


TOPIC: "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

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]

Mark responds:

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]


TOPIC: 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

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

           Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to
           remember from time to time that nothing worth
           knowing can be taught.
                                  --Oscar Wilde, 1891