Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat"

The legend of Prometheus dates to a trilogy called the "Prometheia," originally attributed, but now disputed, to an ancient Greek named Aeschylus. It tells the story of a Titan, Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind. As punishment, Zeus had him bound to a rock atop a mountain where an eagle comes every day to feast on his liver. Eventually, Prometheus is freed by Hercules .... and, you can read the trilogy if your curiosity is sufficient to learn the rest of the tale. The painting here is an oil by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens. It was begun in 1611/1612 and completed in 1618 and is titled "Prometheus Bound." It is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art collection. The eagle was painted by Frans Snyders, a specialist animal painter.

Quotes to remember ....

It is said there is a quote for any and every occasion and, when one finds it, someone else will find another which contradicts it .... and, someone else will locate an earlier version of both.  (Or, should that be "of each?")

As a college boy, I encountered a number of quotes which struck my fancy. Among them was this one: "Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad."

The line was spoken by Prometheus in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Masque of Pandora."

I since have discovered a number of references using descriptive words other than the term, "mad," to illustrate the concept, and written examples demonstrating that the thought goes back to other "Old Greeks," ­such as Sophocles and Euripides, if not to even more "distant" times.

English poet and playwright, John Dryden, who lived about two centuries before Longfellow actually wrote this: "For those whom God to ruin has design'd, He fits for fate, and first destroys their mind." Sort of sounds the same, does it not?

No matter who, what, where, when or how, I still like the quote, occasionally use it and have seen indication it often is reasonably correct and accurate.

A fascinating side note of this (to me, anyway) is the possible connection between the Greek mythological woman Pandora and the Biblical woman Eve. There is a theory, which I will not elaborate on at this time, that they are based on the same individual. I sort of think it is a very plausible theory.

And, with that, here is another quote which I recently discovered and to which I am drawn:

Written on a t-shirt /
Worn by rock front man Doogie White /
While performing an on-stage concert /

I have no job
I have no money
I have no car
But, I'm in a band

I like that one, too ....

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The memory of a tree

Time to say goodbye to an ash tree

I adore trees. No ands, ifs or buts. I absolutely love them. In the midst of them is one of two places I feel most comfortable and most at home. The other place is in a canoe or a boat somewhere on "big water" .... Lake Superior is one such setting.

So, it really pained me to have a tree cut down, which is what is happening in the two photographs taken last week. The ash tree was diseased and would have to be taken down at some point. The point arrived, in my mind, a few weeks ago, so I made the necessary arrangements. The cutting crew blocked off the street and dropped it there, then cut it up and hauled it away. Such is the fate of life ....

There are two songs here this time. One is the Taliesin Orchestra rendition of, "The Memory of Trees," by Enya. It sort of goes along with the photographs. The second, "I Will Always Love You," sung by John Nommensen Duchac, also known as John Doe, is here because it came up in a recent conversation.

For those of you who watch films with a critical eye, often a few times, you may have become aware that a man is singing this song during the "saloon" dance scene with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in the film, "The Bodyguard." It took me almost forever to track down the singer, and it turned out he is one who has been around for just about that long -- but, his usual music is not on my listening list.

For three or four reasons, his is my favorite version of the piece .... mostly my favorite, I suppose, because John Doe sings it with a Western twang and because the cowboy embedded deeply within me is drawn to it ....


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Music does not age .... live forever

"The devil drives"

People and their priorities sometimes puzzle me. Perhaps, I should rephrase that: Individuals and their priorities often mystify me. Yes, that is better.

I recently watched the film, "The November Man." It was made in 2014 (very recent, by my standards) and is based on a 1987 novel (sort of recent, by my ....) written by Bill Granger, a newspaper man turned novelist. In the movie, there is an exchange of dialogue between Peter Devereaux (a sort of retired CIA operative whose code name was November, played by Pierce Brosnan) and Arkady Federov (the Russian president­-elect and a former Russian general, portrayed by Lazar Ristovski, a "famous" Serbian actor). Also in the scene is Olga Kurylenko (a Ukrainian-born actress who plays Mira Filipova impersonating Alice Fournier, and who shared the spotlight with Daniel Craig in the James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace").

While the dialogue is going on, Devereaux is holding a revolver with a single round in it (a single bullet, to interpret for the uninitiated) on Federov, spinning the cylinder, asking a question of Federov and, if he does receive an answer, pulling the trigger. The exercise is a variation of Russian Roulette. The end result is, almost always, a death. So then, here is the dialogue:

Devereaux: Nineteen ninety-nine. You supported an American operation to impersonate Chechen terrorists. Who was the American agent who ran it?

Federov: You are sit (sic) on my shirt.

Devereaux to Fournier, handing her a second handgun: Mira, take this. Shoot him if you have to.

Federov: You are not going to kill me.

Devereaux: That's for you to decide. We're gonna play a little game that I believe was invented in your country. I'll ask you once more. Who was the American agent?

(As he is speaking, Devereaux places a single round in the revolver and spins the cylinder. When he receives no response from Federov, Devereaux pulls the trigger. There is an audible click as the hammer falls on an empty chamber of the cylinder. Devereaux again spins the cylinder.)

Devereaux: I'll ask you again. Was it Weinstein? Hmm?

(Again, Federov does not respond and again Devereaux pulls the trigger. And again, there is an audible click as the hammer falls on an empty chamber of the cylinder. Devereaux again spins the cylinder.)

Devereaux: Come on! You piece of shit! Your odds are running out. Who was the American agent? Was it Weinstein?

Federov: Hanley.

Devereaux: John Hanley .... Hanley?

Federov: Yeah.

(Devereaux is disbelieving. He takes a photograph showing himself and two other men from his pocket and holds it in front of Federov's face.)

Devereaux: Was it this guy? The guy in the middle?

(Federov points to the Hanley. Fournier sees the photograph and confirms Federov's identification.)

Fournier: No. Peter. That's him. The bald guy.

Devereaux: Shh, shh ....

Now, what mystifies me is why someone would or how someone could be concerned with the condition of their shirt when confronted by a known CIA assassin, who in all probability will kill him within minutes? Is this the ultimate "ubermensch" or is it someone in dire need of psychiatric help?

More importantly, perhaps, is why this "incident" should amount to more than a random thought passing through my mind, rather than turning into a point of fascination. I suppose it is because, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the priorities people have often mystify me.

And, as I frequently have written in previous posts, I am driven by an intense and an immense curiosity.

And, why is that? As William Shakespeare and a few others both before him and since him noted and have written, I suppose the answer is because "the devil drives."   

By the way (I love to write those three words), although it is made clear again and again in the film that he truly is an evil man, Federov does leave the room alive .... but, he does not escape eventual retribution. The final scene in the movie shows him on a multi­­­-million dollar yacht anchored a few hundred yards offshore in an unnamed sea. He is accompanied by a few beautiful women and he is drinking (presumably) vodka. Abruptly, a bullet rips through his head and his body falls over the rail of the yacht and disappears into the depths of (Homer's) wine-dark sea.

Whoever actually fired the shot is not shown, but there is a probable candidate and two distant possibles ....

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Still another reason to love classic rock

"Night into Morning"
This is the storyline of the 1951 film, "Night into Morning" ....

Berkley English professor Phillip Ainley (played by Ray Milland) has a wife and young son who are killed in a gas explosion in their home. Unable to cope with the situation, he begins to drink heavily and becomes suicidal. His friends, Tom Lawry (also an English professor, portrayed by John Hodiak) and Katherine Mead (Lawry's fiance, a war widow and the English department secretary, depicted by Nancy Davis, the future Mrs. Ronald Reagan) try to return Ainley to normalcy (whatever that might be ....). Karl Tunberg and Leonard Spigelgass wrote the original screen play, and Fletcher Markle directed the production.

The final scene of the film features Ainley making closing remarks to one of his classes. Here are his words, as best I could transcribe them while watching it and recalling them a few days ago:

This is our last hour together. I'm not going to keep you for it. But, I'll remember every one of your faces for the rest of my life, and I rather imagine you'll remember mine because we've gone on a journey together.
There were times when I lost my way and somewhere along the road you and others became the teacher and I, the student. You've taught me that as long as one man is without an answer, all men are without an answer. You've taught me that only he who chooses to be alone, is alone. And so, even though our small journey is over and we go our separate ways, we'll never really be apart. Til the end of time we'll carry in our hearts the things that we've shared together.

I'm sure someone somewhere said that better than I, probably Shakespeare, surely the Bible, but I think it's something a man should say at last to himself. As you know, I teach English, but there are some things very hard to say in it. Goodbye is one of them. So, if you don't mind, I'll use my first-year Spanish: Vaya con Dios. Go with God. Let's all go with God.

If someone were to ask me why I decided to post Ainley's "sort of soliloquy" here, I might begin rambling on and on with thoughts such as these: Movies in the 1940s and 1950s frequently told stories and were, in a manner of speaking, morality plays worthy of reflection; the words struck me as eloquent and profound as I heard them and later remembered them; the words coincide with my own recent thoughts and questions about life and living; I am a romantic and a fool, and I constantly am looking for my own meaning and purpose; and, and, and ....

Well, those things, yes .... but, in truth, I am pretty much of a lost soul stumbling in a seemingly never-ending maze and keep looking for some manner of absolute, universal truth.

As Ainley's concluding dialogue would seem to indicate, he has begun to travel on the road toward learning how to live "normally" once again despite the loss of his wife and son, just as Mead had adjusted to the loss of her husband during World War II. Sort of a "happy ending."

Films of the 1940s and 1950s generally had happy endings -- which is what I require of all stories in my life and which is another reason why I put together a post about the movie. The title of the post is in reference to the music, but "with you or without you" certainly ties in nicely to the substance of the film. Scala, incidentally, is a Belgian women's choir whose musical selections frequently are covers of rock pieces. The final video is there just for the fun of it, baby .... and, as a reminder of the brevity of life ....

Anyway and whatever .... go with god .... or whomever your inner voice listens to ....

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

One more reason to love classic rock

 "You know, I hope we never die ...."

There are times I feel like I have been (always am) asleep at the switch; blind in one eye and cannot see out of the other; a complete fool, idiot, buffoon; a man walking through life aimlessly, without purpose or intent.

I can see a number of you are nodding in agreement with that assessment.

More than a few years ago, I began watching a film never-before seen by me on television. It had been running for some time, so I had not seen the credits and I assumed the story was based on one of William Shakespeare's plays. It was an "older" movie, "The Lion in Winter," with Peter O’Toole playing Henry II; Katharine Hepburn portraying the banished and imprisoned one-time queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine; Anthony Hopkins as their eldest son, Richard the Lionhearted; one of the future James Bond actors, Timothy Dalton, here as King Philip II of France; and assorted other actors/characters.

I have written about this play/film in the past and I will not attempt to go into any details of the story other than to say the closing lines exchanged between Henry and Eleanor as the film ended really stunned me. I re-read the play recently -- those closing lines several times -- and, I have been thinking about them often -- pondering them -- in both a religious and a secular sense. The lines were:

 Henry: You know, I hope we never die.

 Eleanor: I hope so, too.

Henry: You think there's any chance of it?

 (Eleanor smiles, then starts to laugh. Henry joins her in the laughter. The music rises as we begin to pull back and we cannot hear her reply. We can, however, see them talking as Eleanor moves to the deck of the ship [which will return her to imprisonment] and takes up position at the rail.)

I later learned the play was the work not of Shakespeare, but of James Goldman, a contemporary in the sense he was born in 1927 and died in 1998. I later bought a copy of the play and read it. Since Goldman wrote both the stage play and the screenplay for the film, I was not surprised to discover the dialogue was the same in both. I noted that Goldman also wrote both the stage play and the screenplay for a drama about Sherlock Holmes, "They Might be Giants," and the original screenplay for, "Robin and Marian," two of my favorite productions, as well as a number of other works.

 My prior unawareness of a writer with the talent and the imagination of Goldman is the basis for my opening paragraph.

The closing words of Maid Marian to Robin Hood are equally eloquent and fascinating to those of Henry and Eleanor:

"I love you. More than all you know. I love you more than children. More than fields I've planted with my hands. I love you more than morning prayers or peace or food to eat. I love you more than sunlight, more than flesh or joy, or one more day. I love you .... more than God."

In the next life, maybe, I will write something equally profound or, maybe, encounter a woman who will say such words to me .... and mean them.

Something special ....