Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

Tam o' Shanter (Translation) by Robert Burns
via Alexandria Burns Club

When the peddler people leave the streets,
And thirsty neighbours, neighbours meet; 
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to take the road home, 
While we sit boozing strong ale,
And getting drunk and very happy,
We don’t think of the long Scots miles, 
The marshes, waters, steps and stiles, 
That lie between us and our home,
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame (wife),
Gathering her brows like a gathering storm, 
Nursing her wrath, to keep it warm.

This truth finds honest Tam o' Shanter,
As he from Ayr one night did canter;
Old Ayr, which never a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonny lasses.

Oh Tam, had you but been so wise,
As to have taken your own wife Kate’s advice!
She told you well you were a waster,
A rambling, blustering, drunken boaster,
That from November until October,
Each market day you were not sober;
During each milling period with the miller,
You sat as long as you had money,
For every horse he put a shoe on,
The blacksmith and you got roaring drunk on;
That at the Lords House, even on Sunday,
You drank with Kirkton Jean till Monday.
She prophesied, that, late or soon,
You would be found deep drowned in Doon,
Or caught by warlocks in the murk,
By Alloway’s old haunted church.

Ah, gentle ladies, it makes me cry,
To think how many counsels sweet,
How much long and wise advice
The husband from the wife despises!

But to our tale :- One market night,
Tam was seated just right,
Next to a fireplace, blazing finely,
With creamy ales, that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Cobbler Johnny,
His ancient, trusted, thirsty crony;
Tom loved him like a very brother,
They had been drunk for weeks together.
The night drove on with songs and clatter,
And every ale was tasting better;
The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
With secret favours, sweet and precious;
The cobbler told his queerest stories;
The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus:
Outside, the storm might roar and rustle,
Tam did not mind the storm a whistle.

Care, mad to see a man so happy,
Even drowned himself in ale.
As bees fly home with loads of treasure,
The minutes winged their way with pleasure:
Kings may be blessed, but Tam was glorious,
Over all the ills of life victorious.

But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow fall on the river,
A moment white - then melts forever,
Or like the Aurora Borealis rays,
That move before you can point to their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form,
Vanishing amid the storm.
No man can tether time or tide,
The hour approaches Tom must ride:
That hour, of night’s black arch - the key-stone,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in
And such a night he takes to the road in
As never a poor sinner had been out in.

The wind blew as if it had blown its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallowed,
Loud, deep and long the thunder bellowed:
That night, a child might understand,
The Devil had business on his hand.

Well mounted on his grey mare, Meg.
A better never lifted leg,
Tom, raced on through mud and mire,
Despising wind and rain and fire;
Whilst holding fast his good blue bonnet,
While crooning over some old Scots sonnet,
Whilst glowering round with prudent care,
Lest ghosts catch him unaware:
Alloway’s Church was drawing near,
Where ghosts and owls nightly cry.

By this time he was across the ford,
Where in the snow the pedlar got smothered;
And past the birch trees and the huge stone,
Where drunken Charlie broke his neck bone;
And through the thorns, and past the monument,
Where hunters found the murdered child;
And near the thorn, above the well,
Where Mungo’s mother hung herself.
Before him the river Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars throught the woods;
The lightnings flashes from pole to pole;
Nearer and more near the thunder rolls;
When, glimmering through the groaning trees,
Alloway’s Church seemed in a blaze,
Through every gap , light beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn! (whisky)
What dangers you can make us scorn!
With ale, we fear no evil;
With whisky, we’ll face the Devil!
The ales so swam in Tam’s head,
Fair play, he didn’t care a farthing for devils.
But Maggie stood, right sore astonished,
Till, by the heel and hand admonished,
She ventured forward on the light;
And, vow! Tom saw an incredible sight!

Warlocks and witches in a dance:
No cotillion, brand new from France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
In a window alcove in the east,
There sat Old Nick, in shape of beast;
A shaggy dog, black, grim, and large,
To give them music was his charge:
He screwed the pipes and made them squeal,
Till roof and rafters all did ring.
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That showed the dead in their last dresses;
And, by some devilish magic sleight,
Each in its cold hand held a light:
By which heroic Tom was able
To note upon the holy table,
A murderer’s bones, in gibbet-irons;
Two span-long, small, unchristened babies;
A thief just cut from his hanging rope -
With his last gasp his mouth did gape;
Five tomahawks with blood red-rusted;
Five scimitars with murder crusted;
A garter with which a baby had strangled;
A knife a father’s throat had mangled -
Whom his own son of life bereft -
The grey-hairs yet stack to the shaft;
With more o' horrible and awful,
Which even to name would be unlawful.
Three Lawyers’ tongues, turned inside out,
Sown with lies like a beggar’s cloth -
Three Priests’ hearts, rotten, black as muck
Lay stinking, vile, in every nook.

As Thomas glowered, amazed, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reeled, they set, they crossed, they linked,
Till every witch sweated and smelled,
And cast her ragged clothes to the floor,
And danced deftly at it in her underskirts!

Now Tam, O Tam! had these been young girls,
All plump and strapping in their teens!
Their underskirts, instead of greasy flannel,
Been snow-white seventeen hundred linen! -
The trousers of mine, my only pair,
That once were plush, of good blue hair,
I would have given them off my buttocks
For one blink of those pretty girls !

But withered hags, old and droll,
Ugly enough to suckle a foal,
Leaping and flinging on a stick,
Its a wonder it didn’t turn your stomach!

But Tam knew what was what well enough:
There was one winsome, jolly wench,
That night enlisted in the core,
Long after known on Carrick shore
(For many a beast to dead she shot,
And perished many a bonnie boat,
And shook both much corn and barley,
And kept the country-side in fear.)
Her short underskirt, o’ Paisley cloth,
That while a young lass she had worn,
In longitude though very limited,
It was her best, and she was proud. . .
Ah! little knew your reverend grandmother,
That underskirt she bought for her little grandaughter,
With two Scots pounds (it was all her riches),
Would ever graced a dance of witches!

But here my tale must stoop and bow,
Such words are far beyond her power;
To sing how Nannie leaped and kicked
(A supple youth she was, and strong);
And how Tom stood like one bewitched,
And thought his very eyes enriched;
Even Satan glowered, and fidgeted full of lust,
And jerked and blew with might and main;
Till first one caper, then another,
Tom lost his reason all together,
And roars out: ‘ Well done, short skirt! ’
And in an instant all was dark;
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.

As bees buzz out with angry wrath,
When plundering herds assail their hive;
As a wild hare’s mortal foes,
When, pop! she starts running before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When ‘ Catch the thief! ’ resounds aloud:
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
With many an unearthly scream and holler.

Ah, Tom! Ah, Tom! You will get what's coming!
In hell they will roast you like a herring!
In vain your Kate awaits your coming !
Kate soon will be a woeful woman!
Now, do your speedy utmost, Meg,
And beat them to the key-stone of the bridge;
There, you may toss your tale at them,
A running stream they dare not cross!
But before the key-stone she could make,
She had to shake a tail at the fiend;
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie pressed,
And flew at Tam with furious aim;
But little knew she Maggie’s mettle!
One spring brought off her master whole,
But left behind her own grey tail:
The witch caught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

Now, who this tale of truth shall read,
Each man, and mother’s son, take heed:
Whenever to drink you are inclined,
Or short skirts run in your mind,
Think! you may buy joys over dear:
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


I love the militant imagery in this hymn from today's Divine Office:

The eternal gifts of Christ the King,
The Apostles’ glory let us sing;
And all with hearts of gladness raise
Due hymns of thankful love and praise.
For they the Church’s princes are,
Triumphant leaders in the war,
In heavenly courts a warrior band,
True lights to lighten every land.
Theirs is the steadfast faith of saints,
And hope that never yields nor faints,
The love of Christ in perfect glow
That lays the prince of this world low.
In them the Father’s glory shone,
In them the will of God the Son,
In them exults the Holy Ghost,
Through them rejoice the heavenly host.

Alas, I have no further information concerning it. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Too Little Too Late: A Review of "V for Vendetta"

[I am not going to waste a lot of time on this flick as it doesn't merit much time.  Just some thoughts I had after watching this misfire of a movie.]

After reading an article praising the "V for Vendetta" graphic novel, I decided to watch the movie treatment from a few years ago.  Truth is, I've been actively avoiding this movie because I recall that when the movie was originally released, the cast and crew went around pushing the film as some sort of cinematic denunciation of the Bush administration.  While I don't begrudge the Hollywood left their right to speak their mind on politics, I do find it insufferable silly at times, such as when they try to paint a mush Republican as a despot.  But more than that, I usually find such a tactic to be an indicator that the movie in question cannot stand on its own merits as a work of art, so it needs to be promoted on trendy political grounds to create some interest.  Sadly, I was correct here.

[Note: what follows is my critique of the movie.  I have never read the original graphic novel, so I am unable to know if the identified faults lie with the movie or the source material.  Furthermore, I cannot be bothered to go back and watch the movie again, so some of my recollections might be inaccurate.]

Initially, I found myself really enjoying the movie!  The character of V was precisely the type of protagonist I like to root for: he was flamboyant, cultured and most endearing of all, a tragic romantic.  In some ways, he reminded me of William F. Buckley if Buckley had a violent streak.  Of course, V isn't a mere analogue for some contemporary political pundit, but was an actual historical personality who ardently fought for Catholic political rights at a time when being Catholic meant real persecution in Protestant England, a fact carefully omitted from this movie and seemingly forgotten by contemporary revolutionaries who are quick to don Guy Fawkes masks.   Be that as it may, I found V's incarnation of this iconic rebel to be suitably larger than life - which is how it must be as very little is known about the actual Guy Fawkes (he wasn't even the mastermind of the Gunpowder Plot but just one of the lower level conspirators who was unlucky enough to get caught).  In fact, I came to like this character even more when we were invited into his batcave (can I mix graphic novel material here?).  Inside, we discover that he is a consummate traditionalist: classic books, especially Shakespeare, fill his den, a chess set sits on his desk, and timeless pieces of art, especially pastoral landscapes, adorn his walls.  Capping all this off is a jukebox filled with jazz records, the only fitting musical choice for nonconformists, of course.  Lastly, V is revealed to be a fan of classic B&W cinema, especially "The Count of Montecristo," a movie V endearingly reveals to be his favorite of all time.  Clearly, V isn't some trendy anarchist but a man grounded in the wisdom of the past. He is very much an antiquarian, one whom I suspect would feel quite out of place in contemporary campus politics where would-be revolutionaries are more likely to have their nose buried in a mass-produced smartphone than in a tome by Aristotle.  For that reason I suspect that V and I would have gotten along famously, doubly so after listening to his political views that were a mix of healthy political cynicism and upward looking idealism.  Honestly, I was surprised at how V's views mostly transcended the kitchy libertarian politics of Millennials.  Instead, the politics that were on display here seemed to gravitate towards a more thoughtful, politically savvy worldview, one similar to Jean Jacques Rousseau's observation that  "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains."   I even found myself nodding in agreement when V made a point to highlight how mass media is deliberately used to frighten people into surrendering their liberties to confront the latest bogeyman du jour, only to later split them into artificially opposed groups - the old "divide and conquer" trick used countless time by despots as well as cable news hosts everywhere.  All surprisingly insightful observations for a contemporary flick.

I hated to admit it, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying the movie by the midpoint!  It was smart, exciting, and deliciously subversive in the timeless fashion of the best of conservative thought.  And like V's favorite movie, it had some great, swashbuckling action in its early parts.

But then it happened.  What had to happen, I guess.  The dirty fingers of contemporary Hollywood politics intruded into the narrative. The shift in tone was so striking that I got the distinct impression that some corporate suit from Warner Bros. picked up the phone and told the team, "Guys!  Knock it off!  We said you could make a politically subversive movie, but we didn't mean an authentically subversive movie!  You know, keep it politically correct subversive."  And that is what the second half of the film came to represent.

In an almost unaccountable decision, a large portion of the second half of the movie almost completely abandoned the fascinating and truly subversive character of V and instead shifted the narrative to the cardboard cutout character of Evey, V's romantic interest / groupie.  Compared to V, Natalie Portman's character is dreadfully boring with little to say or do of interest.  In a move as torturous for the audience as it was for Evey, we are forced to endure a lengthy, cliched sequence where Evey is imprisoned in a detention facility and is tortured daily.  I normally dislike such scenes because once you've seen one, frankly, you've seen them all.  That held true here as the viewer is subjected to boilerplate prison camp tropes such as tearful hair clippings, head dunking water torture, and bouts of incoherent whimpering by Evey in her drab, grey cell.   Guys: If you are going to do a detention center sequence, try to think outside of the box a bit as audiences the world over have long since become desensitized to such cliches.

But it gets worse.  Apparently, the powers that be didn't feel like this sequence was sufficiently boring, so they introduced a sub-narrative more stultifying than Evey's, one that deals with an ill-fated lesbian romance.  Yeah.  Thrilling, that.  Not surprising, really, as the bungling Wachowski brothers - well, now the Wachowski sisters (look it up) - have always been obsessed with homosexuality and homophilia in their films, whether or not it had a place, as it really didn't here.  In fact, this isn't even the first time the audience is awkwardly forced to endure such a pointless sexual digression as earlier in the film we are introduced to another subversive character, the urbane TV producer Dietrich, who inexplicably reveals his traditionalist batcave to Evey on a whim.  As with V, we see that he also collects banned literature, art and - wait for it - tasteless Robert Mapplethorpe homoerotica, an incongruous addition to such a noble collection, to say the least.  Strangely, Dietrich, who reveals himself to be gay to Evey, also cherishes a Koran, a curious decision seeing the muslim world's oft violent intolerance towards homosexuals.  I never read the graphic novel, but this has all the hallmarks of post 9-11 political posturing and little else as it makes no sense.  Welcome to the tiresome world of Hollywood politics!

Honestly, while I did think the shoehorned-in Mapplethorpe collection to be tasteless, especially when juxtaposed with timelessly beautiful artwork (the Wachowski brothers/sisters/ are artistic philistines apparently), I liked Dietrich as he was presented to be kindhearted man struggling to survive in a hostile world.  As a result,  the narrative didn't suffer much because Dietrich was as interesting as V in his own way despite his unaccountable taste in kitch S&M "art."  Unfortunately, though, Evey's imprisonment sequence was just a cliched, crashing bore because she is as gray and lifeless as her prison walls.   Add in the dull and ham-handed lesbian narrative, and all the accumulated energy of the first half of the film was utterly lost.

Frankly, the movie never recovered from this turn in the plot.  The tense pacing and interesting politically repartee of the first half was lost for good, with the remaining runtime of "V for Vendetta" being devoted to formulaic graphic novel movie treatment: contrived  action sequences, juvenile smash and burn mob politics (as seen in an ending right out of the horrors of the French Revolution), and a forced and nonsensical confrontation between V and his nemesis, the dreadfully banal Adam Suter (John Hurt) who was shamelessly ripped right out of "1984" (also starring John Hurt).  All the magic of the first half of the movie - the flamboyance, the socratic philosophizing, even some interesting sleuthing about V's origins by the noble Detective Finch - was lost in the second half's by-the-numbers, modern mass-produced movie mediocrity.  Again, one can't help but to suspect some corporate meddling here because the distinction between the two parts was so great.  Cries of "Dumb it down!  Dumb it down!" echo in my head from some imaginary Warner Bros. boardroom meeting.  This impression was made all the stronger when the ending credits didn't even have the logical courage to play the audience out to V's favorite jazz piece, Julie London's iconic "Cry Me a River," but instead played the non sequitur that is the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man."  That is unaccountably dumb.

Which is a good, final synopsis for "V for Vendetta."  It could have been much better - indeed, it was on track to being something much better!  But we just can't have nice things in this day and age of entertainment mega-conglomerates churning out the cinematic equivalent of spam for illiterate audiences.  I suspect that if V got wind that Warner Bros. was going to make his graphic novel into a movie, he might have started stacking gunpowder once again.  But this time under Hollywood, the ultimate Orwellian enclave.

Score: C-