Tag Archives: movies

THIS STORY SAYS “BOO!”

Jack-o-lantern
Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Halloween“Hallowed E’en” (Evening) – is what most people today call the last night of October.  Ancient Celts preferred their own word for it: Samhain, from their god of the dead, who drew back the curtain that separated a dead soul from a living world, granting it freedom to move, just for a night – October 31, the last night of their calendar year.   That’s right: what we call Halloween originated as the harrowing, pagan version of New Year’s Eve!

The scary monsters we associate with Halloween aren’t real, in the physical sense, but they strike a chord within us, for what they symbolize:

Vampires, for example, are depicted as sophisticated, cool under pressure, versatile menaces – the “royalty” of movie monsters – but they also epitomize lack of empathy for others, addiction (to blood), and fear of strangers; they reflect back at us our fear of isolation from others. Whether it’s Count Dracula or Edward Cullen, vamps are hardy perennials.

Werewolves, the more primal “country cousins” of the vampire, push this further, exploring a vision of ourselves, stripped of our literal humanity, altered by a full moon’s radiance into bloodthirsty animals of staggering power – our fear of losing our self-control. This may have found their inspiration in the wildness of ancient human totem-warriors – and yes, lycanthropes have their own fans.

Zombies, namely the fast-running version, are all the rage right now. They focus our fear of literal death, physical disintegration, and mindlessness – but they also seem to be the one such monster an ordinary person could defeat, given the weapons and sufficient ruthlessness, so that, I suspect, plays some role in their popularity, with literary and cinematic audiences.

Ghosts are about our fear of being forgotten,  regrets, frustrations – the kind that couldn’t end in a person’s bodily demise (talk about frightening, if it were true!).  They may also represent our wish to “liven up” our basic, everyday homes and work places, as well as our yearning to remain in contact with our lost loved ones. It may be that they act as a ‘container’ for our fear of oblivion – an odd thing to say about a disembodied spirit, perhaps.  They all pluck some strings within us, someplace where we still shiver at the thought of facing unknown menaces.

They also provide templates for excellent costumes… Happy Trick or Treat!

THIS STORY IS (NOT REALLY) QUITE “SINISTER”

I won’t say I’ve had it rough, but I belong to an enigmatic minority group.  Many think we’re absentminded, clumsy, lack certain job skills, are more prone to illness and injury, and won’t live as long as members of the majority will (or can) do.  Some of the more charming words wielded against us include the Greek Skaios, which means “ill-omened”; the French gauche, “awkward”; even the Gaelic Ciotóg, which means “the strange one” (shame on my ancestors for that one, I guess).  When I was just a small fry, I learned that names can’t hurt me – which is good, because I also learned that I am left-handed, and that, I couldn’t change.

I’m exaggerating about the ’embattled’ part, sure; this does not rise to the level of ethnic or gender struggles.  In fact, this seems to be a good time to be a southpaw; I trust my brother Chris, also a lefty, would agree.

The bias against left-handedness isn’t as intense now as it was in, for instance, ancient Roman times, when a southpaw was “sinister” while a right-hander was a “dexter“.  Today, you might say a smooth or skillful act was “dexterous”, but a foiled effort was “maladroit”, i.e. bad-right, and where else would your “bad” right be, if not to the left of your “good” one?

It’s tough to be a southpaw at first, even in a forgiving atmosphere, discovering how much of the world is engineered to make dexters happy.  Keys for doors and car engines are designed for right-hand use, which means a lefty has to get better at right-handed manipulation, which is a good thing.  Writing by hand, of course, can be just ridiculous – on right-handed desks, in particular, it’s a fine way to get ink on oneself and, even worse, get a sore neck from having to turn sideways.  Scissors, saws and many other hand tools, automated teller machines, and loads of other things are not built to appeal to our “niche market”, but we’re nothing if not stubborn, and willing to learn.

The bright side of being a southpaw, of course, is the company one keeps.  Something about being perceived and treated as kooky outsiders seems to bring out the best in left-handed folks.  We may never hear of a brilliant left-handed saxophone player, given the current lack of left-handed saxophones, but I bet you’ve enjoyed the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, Erroll Garner, Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, and Kurt Cobain. Southpaw artists:

Henry Ford
Henry Ford (Photo credit: Christopher Marks)

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, and M. C. Escher. Lewis Carroll was left-handed; so was Mark Twain.  Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Charlemagne and Lord Horatio Nelson (who had to switch over from the right hand he lost) were world-shaking lefty warriors; southpaw Mohandas Gandhi shook the world, too, but for peace.

Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity and motion must have sprung from his over-active right-brain, which of course governs left-sided functioning.  Left-handed entrepreneurs include Henry Ford, who mass-produced cars, and Bill Gates, who did likewise for computers.  “Gentleman” Jim Corbett and Oscar de la Hoya left their mark in professional boxing; lefties Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson are two of my dad’s golf icons; Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel and Reggie Jackson are famous baseball players.  The movies made lefties Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Harpo Marx, Robert Redford, Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Robert De Niro, and Whoopi Goldberg famous.  Left-handed U.S. Presidents include not only Barack Obama, but James A. Garfield, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (if memory serves), George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well.

Being a southpaw would seem to be, to say the least, a surmountable obstacle.  So: even though it’s taken up my entire evening to write this, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy International LeftHanders Day… yes, even if you’re right-handed!

A RICHARD MATHESON TRIBUTE STORY

English: American science fiction author Richa...
English: American science fiction author Richard Matheson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Matheson has left us, and more’s the pity, for he gave us so much.  This is not even a full list of his “Number 1 hits”, let alone of his full body of work:

Film: for Roger Corman, he converted Edgar Allen Poe’s gripping prose into the silver-tongued speeches of Vincent Price villainy; The Masque of the Red Death is lurid and comical.  He turned a regular guy into The Incredible Shrinking Man; unleashed a world of vampires upon the anti-hero lead of I Am Legend (that actors as different as Price, Charlton Heston, and Will Smith have portrayed Neville speaks volumes about how malleable, and mythic, that story has been).  He launched grieving men on otherworldly searches for love, in the distant past (Bid Time Return, filmed as Somewhere In Time) or in the Afterlife (What Dreams May Come);

Television: He dreamed up, for The Twilight Zone, the “toy aliens” who invaded a farm house, a World War I pilot whisked to 1960, the gremlin on the wing of that airliner, etc.  He is “to blame” for the transporter accident that split Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk into warring “angel” and “devil” twins.  He let loose a demented, never-seen (and possibly, supernatural) trucker to besiege Dennis Weaver’s terrified motorist, in Duel.  He sent Kolchak, the Night Stalker on his first monster hunts.  He influenced Stephen King; The X-Files even named a UFO-seeking senator after him.

He was also kind and generous towards his fans; for instance, he once sent out a friendly, and helpful, reply to an awkward letter I had written to him, seeking professional advice from a Grand Master.  Besides possessing such epic talent, he was reputed to be quite an excellent person, too, which suggests that those are not mutually exclusive traits, after all (take that, “divas” everywhere!). He is Legend, all right.

EVERY MINOR CHARACTER LIVES A MAJOR STORY

Fiction Stacks
Fiction Stacks (Photo credit: chelmsfordpubliclibrary)

Let us now praise the innocent bystanders of fiction, for they play an invaluable role: they witness the narrative, and lend it a helping hand.  Ever imagine yourself living in a fictional world‘s setting?  You would most likely expect to be one of the main characters; at least, to interact with them… but one can interact with the pivotal characters, without being one.  Try to picture what it might be like to be a walk-on character in a larger story… even a glorified extra, too, has an entire story of his or her own, as do we all.

Think about how that walk-on views the world.  He or she “stars” in a story not being told in greater detail, at the moment we first encounter this specific, fictional world.  So-called minor characters live entire lives that may happen to intersect just once with the lead figures, but that’s enough to acknowledge their contribution.  (Richard Linklater‘s quirky comedy film Slacker employs an entire cast of walk-ons, to great effect.)  The saloon keeper who knows something about cattle rustlers; the person who provides a lead to a detective working on a case; the below-decks crewman who lends the ship’s captain a helping hand; the folks in the bleachers who cheer at a game: they’ve got their own, huge stories, of which we may learn nothing in the story we’re experiencing.

We may think that the only character whose narrative matters is the main one, because that is the life-path upon which the story is focusing at the moment we are paying attention to it, but think about it: this person, too, has lived a number of years prior to entering this scene, which means a wealth of experiences informs that person’s own viewpoint.  This means there may be no “unimportant” or “minor” characters; only characters possessing some degree of mystery.  To be little more than a “glorified extra” in a larger narrative is something closer to common experience than being the central figure is, and while we all want to be the celebrated figure, each of us already plays such a role, even if unsung, somewhere off-stage.

THE STORY OF A FRENCH BEACH

THE STORY OF A FRENCH BEACH

Astonishing to realize this was so long ago; the last survivors of this epoch- shattering thing will leave us some day, owing to their great age – surely, that’s the only way any of us wishes to go.  Over 166,000 Allied and Axis men went at it, hammer and tongs, during “Operation Neptune”.  The heartbreak of it: roughly 2,500 Americans (including a distant cousin of mine), two thousand Britons and Canadians, and something like four thousand to nine thousand Germans were “dispatched to Valhalla” from the sand and surf of Normandy.  Rent fiction movies like The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan, for a “dramatic” look at these cataclysmic events; better, look up authentic “newsreel” footage – the WWII precursor to television news – to see how folks back then were kept informed.