Tag Archives: Nonfiction

From the top of Mount Sinai to the shore of the Planet: ‘Charlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon’, by Marc Eliot – book review

Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last IconCharlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon by Marc Eliot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The movie stars, along with other celebrities whose livelihood is predicated on physical attributes, are not my usual figures of admiration. A biography or a memoir of personality, especially a film star, with an ostentatious narrative of “Rag-To-Riches” or “Angst-to Enlightenment,” is not a read I delve into, nor a mental pacifier to appease revolting boredom. In consideration of those mentioned above, it is a deviation from my staple reading sustenance that I read this biography of Charlton Heston by Marc Eliot to my liking and that I resolved to write about it to my surprise. After all, who would have resisted reading the elevated version of the Vanity Fair offering insightful glimpses into a story of the epochal screen face in the backstage?

Charlton Heston (1923-2008) was an American actor whose impressive performances as Moses in “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” conferred upon him armigerous status in the show business. But do not let the screen persona cloud his real-life persona as the author, a close confidante of the Hestons skillfully and fluidly relates in the book. Heston was a smart businessman, as well as a controversial figure whose political stance shifted from democratic liberalism to republican conservatism as he rode along the crest of tidal waves of time. It was Heston’s modus vivendi in adhering to his set of values and principles in the ethos of times that he believed would keep him alive and purposeful until his sense and faculty of mind would permit him. He had a reasonable degree of the screen star paranoid, which dictated the livelihood and selfhood.

In addition to the life of the Hollywood titan, the intelligence about the movie business, the cast, and behind-the-curtain tidbits related to the films Heston starred is a bonus gem of the book. For example, the reason that the west coast became the capital of the movie industry was that Thomas Alba Edison, President of Motion Picture Patents Company, expelled the prurient nickelodeon movies produced mainly by the Jewish moguls from New Jersey and New York. There is more to it. Orson Wells’s chronic bouts of erratic behaviors; Sophia Lauren’s general tardiness on sets; and Richard Harris’s perspective on Heston as being irrevocably stuck-up are amusing introspection on the personas of actors and actresses that do not seem too surprising. I believe that they played off the gleam of their real personalities in the guise of the fictional characters on screen.

This book is a comprehensive, well-written book that tells about the star of the silver screen whose roles in the movies are so monumentally remarkable that his tale of life is worthier than any of Hollywood scandals or paparazzi pictures showing celebs in lousy appearance. The contained passion from the phosphorescence of his blue eyes, the arduousness of his forward chin, and the powerful torso made Heston as the perfect Pygmalion that even the most stubborn director cannot oversee or denigrate. He was one of the few actors whose laconic flatness worked up internal aspects of the characters through voice and a minimum of gestures that did not come across as a flamboyant flair of or a lack of method acting. For this reason alone, this book is worth reading.

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‘Planet of the Apes (1968)’ – film essay

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Imagine this. You are the only person marooned somewhere far away from your world. You have all heard the dystopian chimes of every brave new world from George Orwell’s totalitarian society of 1984 to William Golding’s terrifying Lord of Flies and Aldous Huxley’s eponymously prophetic Brave New World. Yet, you have not realized how it would be like until you enter such a world alone. The world you face now is the amalgamation of all the worlds described above that exist in the selfishness of lettered cases. What would be your impulsive action toward the stupendousness of the incredible event? Besides, what if your best work a la your reason and hope as good as your pride and hubris can present turns out to be a grand Faux pas?

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Planet of the Apes (1968), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, is a crackling Sci-Fi movie that translates the dystopian thematic of a world in a phantasmagorical display of primal humans and intelligent primates that upends the existing hierarchy of creations and reconstructs the fundamental doctrines of the Origin of Species. It is an advanced society of chimpanzees and orangutans that talk smart, which the 20th-century American astronaut George Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) is hard to stomach with human pride. He then becomes a deformed kind of human slave of the apes in this new brave world where from their God to a prison guard, the apes are the master of the humans. What a wonder this brave new world, that has such apes in it.

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The movie is a visually compelling Juvenalian satire that mercilessly but humorously mocks the targeted human hubris that brings about its destruction in an attempt to replace the role of God. The thinking, talking, and even kissing apes mirror the social behaviors that are no more particular to humans who fail to preserve humankind’s prerogatives by the self-destruction of humanity from catastrophic nuclear war. Taylor embodies the hubris in the optimistic veneer of audacious hope that he will find a way home, to his kinds. It is this hubris that causes the downfall of humankind and himself. He hunts desire and hopes together in the constant resistance against the apes despite the impossibility of returning to earth with the defunct spaceship. His faith is nothing but a waking dream, haughty defiance against the reality, dreaming an awareness of odds in his favor.

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The figure of Taylor is one oddly fascinating mixture of panache and wit, sarcasm, and heart, wrapped in the likeliness of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Talyor represents dramas of human characters wonderfully packed in the imposing physique, towering the apes as if to manifest the sovereignty of man over the apes. The pathos of Taylor in the climactic denouement of the movie reveals his frailty in recognization of the collapsed grand narratives of hope, disillusioned wishes, and shattered dreams as uttered by Macbeth: “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Will this be an empty outcry of failed civilization, echoing the collective pathos of the human consciousness for the corrupt world at its heart?

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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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‘A Journal of the Plague Year’, by Daniel Defoe – review

A Journal of the Plague YearA Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The biblical cyclicity of history proclaims that what is happening now happened before because there’s no new thing under the sun. As I agree with the cyclical history theory, I prefer stories that confirm the continuity of human nature, which results in this felicitous book I came across on the Kindle store. The precedent epidemic scares and the response to them in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, a classic 1722 account of the Black Death that devastated England from 1664 to 1665, do not read no less different than ours. Defoe’s recounting of the plague successfully resurrects the spirit of the epoch as his narrator guides the reader to the places and scenes of the seismic event in the capacity of a charitable and knowledgeable guardian of posterity, making them surprisingly familiar with ours.

It is a literary eye-witness account of what happened during the resurgence of the bubonic plague that had ravaged Europe hundreds of years earlier in the semblance of a nonfiction narrative. Even though Defoe was only five years old when the plague swept England, his fictional narrator feels very real and the account telltale as though it had been written it in the spirit of Veni Vidi Vici. So much so that the story seems more veritable than the counterpart of Samuel Pepys, whose narrative feels comparatively prosaic without the personal charm of the narrator. The reader will also learn that the 17th-century modus operandi of dealing with a pandemic is not that far from the current 21st-century preventive measures of social distancing, personal hygienic disciplines, and other relevant systematic societal restrictions.

Defoe holds up a mirror to his posterity that shows what it was like during the epidemic scare and what the people from days of yore did to sail through such calamity as a wise and warm advisor to our current global pandemic situations. In fact, while I was reading the book, I was surprised by how similar the cautious measures decreed by the authority were then to our own now. In my opinion, this book replaces Boccaccio’s The Decameron as a must-read during the pandemic, because of its power of reality drawn on empirical oral accounts so close to the lives of the ordinary folk that we can relate to our own time.

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universal man: ‘Ben Jonson: A Life’, by Ian Donaldson – review

Ben Jonson: A LifeBen Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been drawn into a writer whose noble ambition and unswerving individuality are distinct from those of the officialized popularity of famed celebrities simply because of the sheer provocativeness of the author translated into the textual world of reality, which is a reflection of his conceptions by the barrier he establishes proudly and profoundly against those of others. In fact, it is this unapologetic individuality that enables the author to become what he is capable of in protean varieties; an alchemist of words, a high priest of the temple of Apollo, a mortal equivalent of Hercules, a neo-classist of a new renaissance, an independent scholar of the great leaning, and a humanist committed to the Classical principles to contribute to the new capital of the Arts. The hero of the splendid epithets is no less the poet and playwright than Ben Jonson himself, and it is in this superbly told biography Ben Jonson: A Life that his modern disciple Ian Donaldson resurrects the person of Jonson in flesh and spirit vividly.

Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson begins with the burial ground of Jonson and then comes alive as Donaldson presents the protagonist Jonson through a phantasmagorical display of the epochal chapters of Jonson’s life as though to be screened for posterity in Immortal Theater of Art. Donaldson’s capacity of screenwriter and director of Ben Jonson’s dramatic life is deprived of blind idolization of Jonson as a suffering lone wolf-typed writer whose brightness was unfairly adumbrated by that of his contemporary peer William Shakespeare, nor is it intent upon accounting the greatness of Jonson over Shakespeare by elucidating the dichotomic feud between the two equally but differently brilliant literary stars in the constellation of Arts. Also, the book rejects the conventional mode of biography in the frame of “cradle to grave” by guiding the reader through specific epochal moments that profoundly influenced Jonson both personally and professionally during one of the most politically and religiously turbulent periods in the history of Great Britain.

Rich in details of the political and social backgrounds of Jonson’s plays and poems in addition to his personal elements that make him stand out among the contemporary literary figures, Donaldson follows the Thucydidean way of examining the history of Jonson in attempt to transcend the subjectivity of the time and popular opinions on the subject and to balance scholarly objective equilibrium to test the validity of truth about the subject matter to the extent possible by holding his express personal opinion thereon. The result is myriad imaginations and images of Jonson as the reader likes to create, whether it be that of dauntlessly confident Achilles, wisely ambitious Agamemnon, divinely valorous Odysseus, or compassionately passionate Hercules.

Upon reading this book, I saw the images of Rodrigo Mendoza played by Robert De Niro from the excellent film “The Mission” and Ben Jonson as himself springing from my mind’s garden as both of their faces a piece like a great Ancient Greek statue. Both of them are passionately devoted to their causes, unfailingly humane, and admirably courageous in fulfilling their destiny to achieve their noble ambitions for the good of humanity – one for the building of terrestrial heaven governed by deeds according to the Gospel in the case of Fr. Mendoza and the other in the person of Jonson for the reconstruction of British Renaissance based upon classical principles as a stratagem of moral and artistic reform. And behind this fascinating literary witchcraft lays Donaldson’s superb biography of Ben Jonson that successfully resurrects the noble and heroic spirit of his literary Hero whose work is enshrined in the Temple of Divine Arts as a scintillating star of the Humanities. And I am sure that Jonson is so happy with Donaldson’s account of his life that he introduces his biographer to the Immortals (including his chum Shakespeare) and that they are having a divine feast with heavenly wine in a constellation of literary stars evermore.

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