Tag Archives: history

‘Major Dundee’ (1965) – film essay

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Ambition, made of sterner stuff, is the solder’s virtue that chooses gain, which darkens him. Bravery, comprised of nobler spirit, is the solder’s honor that elevates the soldier’s merit to the echelon of Homeric virtue of arete, the excellence of man leading to achieving a supernatural feat of heroism. An excellent soldier with arete knows no boundary of political, religious, social, or racial division and transcends the subjectivity of time. Major Dundee (1965), an American western film directed by Sam Peckinpah, cogently translates a balanced, objective equilibrium to test the validity of the soldiers’ virtues on the continuum of the Homeric arete in the background setting of the American Civil War.

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Major Amos Charles Dundee of the Union Army (played by Charlton Heston) is a man of primitive ambition of glory sent to head a squalid prisoner-of-war camp in the New Mexico Territory. There he meets his former friend turned foe Confederate Captain Benjamin Tyreen (played by Richard Harris), who bears a grudge against Major Dundee for his betrayal of friendship. The notable tension between the two always remains even after their uneasy but necessary collaboration. Still, the esprit de corps consisting of unlikely but able-bodied characters sets to take out the Apache War Party in the new territories. Major Dundee sets out for the campaign not of pure divine patriotism but his glory despite his contentions with Captain Tyreen, who is more morally honorable and culturally sophisticated than himself.

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It is Captain Tyreen, the renegade leader of the southern rebels who embodies the model of the arete, combined with moral integrity and soldierly fitness fabulously demonstrated in his effortlessly stylish habiliment. He is a dandy gentleman with decency and learning and an exemplary soldier and leader with justice and bravery. The refinement of civility as incarnate in the figure of Captain Tyreen is vividly contrasted with the rough intransigence of Major Dundee through the exterior appearances and actions of the two opposite characters. Even Captain Tyreen’s attitude toward the colored Union soldiers surpasses Major Dundee’s languid attitude toward his colored soldiers fighting for the same cause.

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“Major Dundee” is a new type of western that abandons its common thematic elements consisting of noble savages, self-righteous lone gunslingers, the arch-villains, and beautiful women in pursuit. It is a new type of western that begins to be aware of the societal changes in the reflection of the nature of humanity with bold actions of likable bravado and admiring characters that are not circumscribed in the extreme ambit of norms and conventions with an artistic touch of vivid realism. Despite the rather unsatisfying commercial success of the film when it first came out, I find this film both entertaining and thoughtful in the historical background of the Civil War, showing true bravery equipped with respectful integrity of a person, friend or foe. There is no better sign of excellence in man than the bare demonstration of the act.

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About ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959)

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A great film with a sincere message about life and human nature transcends a divide of time and a boundary of the territory. I believe that a good movie has a lasting sensory impact on the viewer and cultivates the mind with a visual efficacy of precipitation. In this regard, the epic historical drama ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959), directed by William Wyler, is an epitome of masterpiece cinema not for a time but all seasons. The remarkable triumvirate of the outstanding screenplay, the excellent performance of the cast, the fascinating cinematography produces supreme one of art that resonates with spiritual elements of humanity in the witchcraft of motion picture.

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The film follows a history of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince whose life is forfeited by a betrayal of trust and corruption of friendship. From the height of his prime to the fall, then to redemption, it is heroic acts of high human drama wonderfully conjoined with a tale of Christ whom Ben-Hur encounters by Providence. His wrath is untamed, and anger is the roaring of a lion. Ben-Hur chooses vengeance as a will to live in the march of death in the desert and the prison galleys on the Ionian Sea. He feeds on ire and utters curse every day until he intends to execute vengeance upon the perpetrator with recourse to the old retributory law of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Who can calm the turbulent vortex of the soul in despair and save him from the night of the soul?

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The film revolves around Christ, and Ben-Hur is another disciple of his teachings through conversion into faith, charity, and hope. The figure of Christ is the central theme of the film, but his face is unseen, and his voice unheard. We can only see his rear, but it is the mysteriousness of the person of Christ that elevates the story of Ben-Hur to the sphere of hagiography. The providential encounters with Christ in the climactic moments of his life lead him to the way of Christ, which mirrors the process of Ben-Hur’s redemption from Wrath to Grace, from Desolation to Hope.benhur-christ-a

Whether or not you believe in Christianity is not a prerequisite to appreciating this excellent epic drama because it would be a loss to any lover of arts to forego the spectacular beauty of the cinematography, not to mention the spiritual thematic of one man’s redemption from hopelessness. The grand epic scale of cinematography that depicts the tale of Ben-Hur in the trail of Christ from the Nativity to the Crucifixion is akin to watching Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes of the Sistine Chapel that illustrate the story of humanity from the Genesis to the Last Judgment under God’s mysterious plan for mankind. In conclusion, ‘Ben-Hur’ is not a movie about a hero but about a triumph of hope over the desolation that saves a man’s soul from self-destruction, resonating with ‘Dum spiro, Spero,’ meaning ‘while I breathe, there is hope.’

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‘Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History of Lore”, by Thomas White – review

Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and LoreWitches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and Lore by Thomas White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edmund Burke’s canonical adage of “Superstition is the religion of the feeble mind” fits the American perspective of witchcraft as well as other supernatural views on the world. No wonder literature and media are chockablock with adolescently burlesque images and sensational accounts of the mysterious phenomena in comparison with the European approach to the subject matter in terms of historical and social contexts. However, Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and Lore by Thomas White is an excellent antithesis to the stereotypical American attitude toward the thematic that should merit its place in the history of American civilization. The book is concise in its volume but rich in the spirit that deserves its academic and cultural contribution to the history of the New World.

The book treats the thematic of supernatural accounts of witchcraft and magical folk (the equivalent of the British Cunning Folk) with a sense of respect for the belief tradition held by the Germanic settlers of Pennsylvania and the origins of it in academic approach. Based on his close and observant reading of the multidisciplinary subjects from history to religion, White fills the erudition pages after pages with many unknown historical facts about witchcraft before the infamous Salem witch trial in Massachusetts and the lasting legacy of the supernatural belief still alive among the common folk. The omission of the witchcraft elements found in other cultures, such as African-American and Native-American, is not a supercilious gesture disregarding their values charged with ethnic pride or cultural jingoism. It is to isolate belief tradition in the form of folk magic and witchcraft from a cultural identity of ethnic traits that many people like to associate. Instead, it intends to distinguish it from the established religion that has deeply affected the psyches of the ordinary people, which ultimately has become a folk religion of its own with efficacy.

Whites provides insightful intelligence about the use of folk magic as a sense of control in the world beyond human control. Recourse to supernatural means of relieving the malady of hearts is the last straw a person can think of in a recurring series of losing streaks without jeopardizing his/her self-esteem. The story of Hex Hollow, for example, is the most well-known and representative of the subject matter, manifesting the effects of folk religion on the psyches of the residents in the predominately German-American region. To dismiss the culprits of the case as good-for-nothing superstitious crybabies looking for figures to blame for their unlucky strikes of lives is, therefore, an arrogant display of willful ignorance of the truth about folk religion and its impacts on the psychosomatic functions of individuals. The best illustration of such evidence comes in the form of The Long Lost Friend by one John George Hohman, a German-American Catholic printer, bookseller. It is an impressive collection of herbal remedies, magical healings, and charms that have been known for their potency for years with wide perennial circulation. The book is still going actively available on Amazon.

This book is an excellent read for those craving for academic perspective on witchcraft and magic folk existent in the U.S. without the assistance of parapsychology, paranormal investigators, psychics, and mediums, distinct from the genuine witches, wizards, and hex doctors. It is a collection of supernatural events and narratives recorded in case law and annals of history, told in a plain language comprehensible to eager readers of mysterious knowledge. You will find the book read fast as if you were cast a spell on by its arresting attention and wondrous truths about the existent world we still do not know in its entirety.

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Dokkaebi: the gullible goblin

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Ireful old woodcutter castigating a not so menacing Dokkaebi

The Dokkaebi is a mischievous, playful fairy-like spirit that is equivalent to the western counterparts of leprechauns in capricious temperament and of goblins in formidable appearance. The legend says it that an old broom made out of dried bush clover with bloodstains on will turn into a Dokkaebi, who will hold a spell over the mind of an unfortunate passer-by at night in the field or on the mountain. Befriending with a Dokkaebi can bring you a fortune at a house that he has lived as your protective spirit, but you must live there for precisely ten years only. Otherwise, the Dokkaebi will leave you with the ruins of your fortune and health. There are still people in Korea who believe this belief tradition by offering the Dokkaebi buckwheat cakes, spirited beverages, and steamed pork when they open businesses and move into new houses. Some people even report seeing them when walking alone in the thoroughfares or any lonely path where lights are dim at night between midnight and 4:00 am.

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A Dokkaebi likes to challenge a passer-by with a wrestling match.

The Dokkaebi may seem to possess the caprice and whims natural to fairy-folk. However, it embodies the human characteristics of compassion, selfishness, naivety, shrewdness, durability, and formidableness. The Dokkaebi reflects the pathos of life indelibly embossed in the collective consciousness of the Koreans. They have endured the anfractuous national tragedies and yet maintained their unique language and culture.

Faerie tales often belong to the days of yore before the advents of industrialization, and the fairies are either imaginative creatures or exaggerated figures of fashionably esoteric religions in the west. Still, the Dokkaebi is a living spirit in the minds of the Koreans and has wept and laughed with Koreans.

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A tiger is a Korean totemic animal that can mimic human voices.

P.S. This post is my solipsistic response to #FariytaleTuesday, whose theme for today is the Asian fairies/spirits in folklore. The community is inundated with the wondrous tales of Japan and China but scarcely Korea. Koreans, like the Irish, love to talk and laugh with precious human sentiments, which result in the creation of the Dokkaebi. The Korean culture, as evidenced in the language, is closer to the cultures of the Ural-Altai language family, including the Finnish, the Japanese, the Turkish, the Hungarians, and the Mongolians.  Since there seems to be a scarcity of Korean spirits represented in the tweets, I felt responsible for writing about this playful Korean spirit with human characteristics.

Gaslighting

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There is no more wondrously enigmatic than a man, as betokened in the Spinx’s riddle about the metamorphosis of a man from a quadruped to a tripod. A metaphysical shapeshifter, an astute apprentice to whatever entity is deemed promising, a man is by nature spiritually tenuous in its consistency of adhering to principles of Reason. Concerning the duplicitous nature of a man, no one but Albert Einstein has perspicacious knowledge about human nature. Einstein himself was a genuinely curious admixture of polarities: mad, smart, indifferent, humane, distinguished, ordinary, failing, and excelling, without a hint of arrogance in a semblance of condescendence ingratiating himself with the populace. Accordingly, I find his wise sayings apposite to the several swings of things I have seen in every spectrum of daily life.

The fallacy of human judgment deprived of sensitivity that is apparent in most of the social phenomena aptly applies to Einstein’s following adage: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.” A man knows one thing but disregards the other in the glorified appellation of a lofty cause of elevated human dignity that people are likely to oversee in the ordinary daily landscape. To illustrate, the current campaign against the systematic police brutality in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Michael Brown is indubitably just and noble in its effort of ending the institutionalized racism in the States. However, the people actively involved in the movement – politicians, activists, celebrities, and the rest of the populace – do not seem to include the feelings of others who are socially outcast whom they can see everywhere in the daily landscape.

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The category of the weak and the persecuted should not be limited to people of particular creed or race. Still, it should also encompass those who suffer from daily persecutions by their superiors, peers, and even family members in that relaxed and light-heartedly enforced “Just a job,” “Just a kidding,” or “just a passion of the moment,” which doesn’t mean much. This disguised bullying is an illustration of “Gaslighting,” manipulating someone by callously and sordidly psychological means into doubting his or her sanity when it does not fault the faculty of the mind. The spirit of the victims of gaslighting is only too acute and perceptible to ignore, and the result of the virtuous endurance of socially acceptable bullying is the high rate of suicide and mental illness that people tend to overlook.

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The slogan of “Black Life Matters’ itself indicates the ignorance of other lives as well in the sense that it only promotes the dignity of specific people. Whereas, many other people are subject to daily mistreatment of individualities and dignities based on personal differences in external elements and dispositions that make them distinguished from the majority. Take the fictional Arthur Fleck, the wretched man behind the mask of Joker. Fleck is a victim of abuses that have stunned his growth into a confident individual finding meaning in life. Instead, because of his timid appearance dubbed in fumbling mannerism, Fleck is a subject of ridicule, a good-for-nothing clown whom all the members of society regardless of race and gender from top to bottom taunt and ignore. His invisibility caused by ignorance of people carries him over the edge of his sanity. However, people love to hate him, accuse him of being a villain to wreak havoc on the innocent people loved by all. What’s appalling about the plenary inquisition of Fleck is that it happens in the reality of life where many suffer from the inward pain of separation and misunderstanding from the society that is supposed to protect them. The community turns its back on the nameless individuals who do not fit into the social category of the Weak.

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The fatuous conception of social equality is then null and void in advocating the well-being of the weak in all aspects of social life. The definition of the weak includes all who feel vulnerable, prone to emotional scars callously inflicted by the brutes of the sense. The Twitter Community, for instance, is the most exclusive of all other social media under the disguise of the magnificent liberality of free opinions. It can hurt the soft-spoken and people of delicate constitution trying to find a supportive community where they can share and spread knowledge regardless of elitist discrimination. The high number of followers is the prerequisite of respectability in the digital social meritocracy. The insularity of each community from within is reminiscent of Salem, the island of the lords of flies, and other subliminal lands of nowhere you are likely to imagine in SC-Fi fictions. The viscosity of educational achievements, social appellation, and physical appearance decides the affability of your tweets, making you endear to the qualification of the followers that your twitter pal has amassed. The more unique tweets are, the less popular they are. Forget the lexical queerness due to different linguistic families. The tweets denoting solipsistic musings or solitude in sadness are not welcome. In other words, tweets should be as delightful as an ascending lark. Otherwise, they will not even bother to read your considerate tweets.

The stupidity of people amazes me in every possible variety of forms and degrees, and the reaction to their reflection is all the more mesmerizing in superb wonderment. I wonder if people know that when they champion one cause, they are also excluding the other, which is closer to where they live and work. On the train, on the bus, in stores, in offices, people are ignoring the weak. All of this is the comedy of errors, the infinite stupidity of humans. Einstein saw and knew it, and I am confident that he continues to see it with his arms folded, looking down upon his posterity from his chair of knowledge of the eternal universe, and say, “I told you so.”

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