Quiet men and quiet lives?

John_Wayne_Maureen_O'Hara_from_lobby_card_3

Neo has, as my last post (and one of his comments) suggested, begun to weary of the political round. It could all get technically interesting at Convention time, but Clinton versus Trump looks a bit like LBJ versus Goldwater – but who can tell? In the meantime, we either go to ground and contemplate our navels (I’m quite happy with mine, how about you?) or we find other games to play.

As some of you know, I love what, to my generation, are old films. In particular, I love John Wayne – not least because he reminds me of my Daddy (I know, that’s my complex – what’s yours?). One of the other reasons I like him, and his films, is that you know where you are. I don’t know about you, but I go to the movies (when I do) for escapism. It no doubt makes me a shallow girl, but there’s plenty in my real life to make me think in shades of grey (can you even use that one any more after the dreadful film?) and I watch films to come away feeling better from the experience. I never came away from a John Wayne film without that feeling. I like clear lines, so, in the Quiet Man, John Wayne’s character, Sean Thornton, comes back to the home of his parents, plunging from the hurly-burly of the steel mills of Pittsburgh, to the most idyllic image of rural Ireland ever filmed (no wonder it won the Oscar for best cinematography), and he falls for Maureen O’Hara’s Mary Kate Danaher, a red-haired fiery beauty – who falls for him. But the course of true love never runs smooth, and although they are to be married, it falls apart when her brother, ‘Red Will’, played by the incomparable Victor McLaglen, refuses to release her dowry. As an American, Thornton can’t see why the money matters, but to Mary Kate it represents her rights and her independence, and his refusal to fight for it disgusts her. She does not know that Thornton is former champion boxer who killed a man in the ring. In the end, he does, indeed, fight for her and wins – and the whole film is an utter delight.

Why though? At one level it could be read as a very simple love story with some pretty obvious plotting devices. Part of the answer are the performances, it is not just that O’Hara and Wayne have real chemistry and are on top form, but the supporting cast is also wonderful – McLaglen is his usual great value, and Barry Fitzgerald almost steals it playing the matchmaker Michaeleen Oge Flynn. It works because the great John Ford conjures up the things which matter in real life including greed, pride and ambition – and he makes a good story out of them. We can identify with Sean as the outsider with a secret – and a heart as big as a city, and we can sympathise with his ignorance of the local customs. But we also see a humility there too – a willingness to try to learn and to fit in – without losing his integrity. Mary Kate is almost a Bronte heroine – fiercely proud and independent, but trapped by her sex and times into a place where the option open to her seems to have narrowed to being a house-keeper to her bullying brother – to whom she gives almost as good as she gets. But there’s a sense of life being wasted and yet, heavily as she falls for Sean Thornton, she, too, will not do so at the price of her integrity.

That word, integrity, seems to me at the heart of so many of Ford’s films. Men, and women. make choices, and often the rewards for a loss of integrity seem greater than those for retaining it – but Ford gets what we want from him – that his characters choose what is right. His worlds are complex reflections of reality, but he never loses us in relativism; men are men if they make the sacrifices necessary to sustain that identity, and Ford shows us them in many dimensions.

Yes, sure, it’s escapism, but into a dimension which feeds us and has us coming out of the film thinking the world’s a better place.

 

Lost causes

 

7Hjyq2egVQK90Sm85YpSSMG3O0F

It’s probably just the Romantic in me, but I’m a sucker for lost causes – I guess it’s the historical equivalent of wanting to look after lost puppies or stray cats, and I’m invoking my female privilege as an excuse for being a soppy thing here. We celebrate the victors, but what about the Romantic losers?

Over at my place today, I wrote about my favourite lost cause, Charles I, the only king of England to be executed in public, but I can get equally emotional about Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and Tsar Nicholas II and his family. As Shakespeare recognised in his great Richard II there is something about the fate of fallen royalty which stirs the emotions. That rise and fall on the wheel of fortune was a commonplace of medieval writing, and remains one to which novelists are attracted. I have always found the fallen Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More easier to sympathise with than when they were in the height of their pomp. Poor, supposedly mad Henry VI, is another who stirs my sympathy – and perhaps retreating into madness was actually a sane way of reacting to the horrors of the Wars of the Roses?

On this side of the Atlantic, I have a soft spot for the Loyalists in the American Revolution, whose loyalty was (as it has been so often) ill-requited by the English Crown, and the Confederate cause could hardly not have something romantic about its doomed course (yes, I know, politically incorrect, but if I can’t be that here, there’s no hope).

For this to work for me, there needs to be some high cause, perhaps one that seems doomed, but which demands a commitment and a sacrifice beyond the norm. It’s one of the things which makes Aragorn immediately attractive in Lord of the Rings. We first meet him as ‘Strider’ the ‘Ranger’, the ragged descendant of a race of noble kings long in exile. For anyone of my temperament, that’s the trigger for sympathy – the first time I read the book at the age of 10 I was away. Someone, when he becomes the King, he loses something for me – so I can switch my sympathy to Frodo, who seems to me in many ways the real loser in the trilogy. Yes, his cause wins, but it is Samwise and his family who will inherit all that might have been Frodo’s. It was one of my frustrations with the films, good though they were in many ways, they did not bring out the way the book does the self-sacrificing nature of Frodo’s actions.

Victory, they say, has many fathers, defeat is an orphan. Not while I am around. One of the things which makes The Man who Shot Liberty Vallance such a powerful film for me, and never ceases to have me in tears by the end, is that it is John Wayne’s character, Tom Doniphon, to whom Hallie is initially attracted, as he is to her, although he cannot find the way to say so. She begins to fall for Jimmy Stewart’s character, Ransom Stottard, whom she will marry, and it would have been easy enough for Tom to have let the villain of the piece, Liberty Vallance (Lee Marvin at his best) kill his rival, but instead, Tom does it and lets Ransom take the credit – which gives him the girl, his first steps on the road to success which will lead to the Senate and an ambassadorship. But at the end, Ransom and Hallie come back to town for Tom’s funeral: he may, in the eyes of the world, have been a forgotten man, but those for whom he had sacrificed his own future, came to celebrate his past. Gets me every time.

 

Tongues of Fire on Idris Flaring

Practically Historical reminds us that last Friday was the 137th anniversary of the battle of Rork’s Drift. This was the occasion when the British fought against an attack from the Zulus in Natal. It was held by the B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot, who became not long afterward the South Wales Borderers, and is now part of the Royal Welsh. On that day, 11 Victoria Crosses were earned, a level never surpassed in the British Army. It was immortalized in the film Zulu in 1964, which you can watch here: https://youtu.be/O6astUUUc4o, It’s pretty well up on my favorites list!

via Men of Harlech | Practically Historical.

The most famous part for many of us, is the regimental march of the 24th, the SWB, and the Royal Welsh. It is called Men of Harlech, and it celebrates the longest siege in British history, the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle between 1461 and 1468, commanded by Constable Dafydd ap Ieuan. This very moving version is by the band of the Royal Regiment of Wales, in the church at Rorke’s Drift on the 120th anniversary of the battle

I always like to note that it has a place in American history as well. It was heard during that bayonet charge at the 1st of Ia Drang, and again on 911, both times a Cornish variant being sung by Colonel Rick Rescorla, ret. of the 7th Cavalry, who was raised in Cornwall.

Since we’re doing the Welsh military today, not to mention Men of Harlech, it should be noted that Men of Harlech is also the slow march of the 1st the Queens Dragoon Guards, more commonly called the Welsh Cavalry, who returned recently from Germany, and are now stationed at Robertson Barracks, in Norfolk, and seem to like it, as they are training on their new Coyote wheeled armoured vehicles. There’s a video here, and I suspect my American readers will enjoy the Norfolk version of ‘coyote’ as well:)

Original Sins?

download

All nations have narratives about themselves, it is America’s unique position to have done this in filmic form. The films my father watched – John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart films, often dealt with the theme of ‘the way the West was won’. It is sometimes said by those who haven’t watched enough films, that the narrative around this theme is simplistic and triumphalist – which is code for ‘the white guys won and are celebrating that’. Let’s hold back for a moment the question of why that might be a bad thing, and say that you couldn’t watch a movie like ‘the Searchers’ and come away with something that crude. Ethan Edwards, the character played by John Wayne, is prepared to scalp the Indian he kills, and even to kill his niece Debbie because ‘living with Comanches isn’t living’. There are times he’s as brutal as those he is fighting. The whole film is far from presenting a black and white image of the ‘old West’.

Such films now fall under the general suspicion to which it seems to me many of the achievements of Western Civilization have succumbed; it is as though we no longer have the confidence to face our own past squarely, but must, instead, offer mumbled apologies for it. It isn’t hard to see why. The legacies of the history of the USA are bad as well as good. The great civilization which was built up and which created the greatest Power in the world, was not without its casualties. As the Native Americans had no ‘green card’ system or immigration rules, no one thought to ask the Pilgrim Fathers for their work-permits. The great cities and the railroads which linked them, and the great population expansion all took place in a manner where there were losers as well as winners. The Native Americans were displaced and largely destroyed as a people, their customs and history derided, and their lands taken; they became a remnant in a continent they had once roamed freely. They were the ‘other’, the ‘enemy’ in those old Western, because they were to the European settlers; there was violence on both sides, but they lost, as they were bound to given the disparity in weaponry and resources. That’s a kind of original sin about which it is not surprising there are bad feelings. My own Briton ancestors were largely exterminated or pushed to the margins of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, but that was 1500 years ago, and I’ve probably got as much Anglo-Saxon in me as I do Welsh. History has, if not healed that hurt, made it irrelevant. But in the USA the history is too recent for either of those things, although it will have to deal with it – what’s the alternative – everyone of European ancestry goes away and leave the place as their ancestors found it? Hardly!

The other great casualty of the making of America was, of course, the huge number of African slaves brought over to work the plantations of the South. Here, too, the history is too recent and too sore for the hurts to have healed, and how this will work its way through only time can tell. The arguments for slavery bore a remarkable similarity to those for abortion now – the ‘negro’ was dehumanized, which allowed those who supported the evil to justify it on the ground that those being dehumanized were not humans. We can only hope that the evil of abortion will, one day, be looked upon as we look at the evil of slavery. What comfort there is comes from the fact that in the end, the majority descended from white European immigrants ended both slavery and then the ‘Jim Crow’ system. It does not mean that either their traces or their consequences have gone away, only time and political effort and vision can accomplish that. The things about Dr Martin Luther King which strikes me most is Christianity, and his vision for the future was that of a Christian prophet.

For our true Original Sin there is only one cure – Jesus – and it is in him, if anywhere, that the cure for the other ‘original sins’ discussed here will lie.

Clash of Civilizations: Islamic vs. Judeo-Christian

OK, gang, I give up for now, I’m fighting a cold and writing isn’t going well. But here’s a friend of mine. And Dan is right.

Judeo-Christian civilization has nothing in common with, and nothing to gain from, Islamic civilization as it now exists. They have been clashing for centuries. Now, Islamic civilization appears to be winning in much of the European Union and, to a lesser degree, in America. 

Can anything be done to slow and then to halt the spread of fundamentalist Islam? Ayan Hirsi Ali hopes there is and that Muslims will do it. I also hope they will, but am quite dubious that it will happen in the foreseeable future.We need to take other steps promptly. […]

Fundamentalist Islam is a culture of compulsion and hate

Americans should learn far more than we have from the recent experiences of Sweden, Germany, England, France and other European Union countries in welcoming Muslims to Islamise their cultures. I posted a lengthy article on that on December 13th. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so now. It provides very helpful background for an understanding of the clash of Judeo-Christian and Islamic civilizations.

Here is a lengthy video by Walid Shoebat, once an Islamic jihadist and now a Roman Catholic opponent of Islam. Born in “Palestine,” he imbibed the Islamic culture of hate and compulsion as a youth, as did most of his acquaintances. Eventually, he changed from what he was to what he now is.

via Clash of Civilizations: Islamic vs. Judeo-Christian | danmillerinpanama.

And see that’s the thing, whatever you believe, you have a much better chance of NOT dying for your belief under Christianity. But I also know this: If we don’t defend our culture, we will lose, and Islam will win. Not only will we (as Christians) lose, but the relativists, who don’t understand belief in God, will lose even more badly than we will, for unlike them, we are, at least, ‘People of the Book”. and may survive (by submission) if we wish. Them, not so much.

Old Business and Moving On

uk-us-shooping-0211Well we all, and the blog made it through 2014. There were more than a few days, especially early in the year when that was in doubt, especially for my dearest friend and editor, Jessica. But her Christianity and sense of mission pulled her through, and that inspired me to ‘keep on keepin’ on’. The blog suffered from my disquiet, as did my writing, for which I’m a bit sorry, but it is what it is, and we’ll try to do better. We carried on though, and in fact, did fairly well, holding our own.

For that I owe thanks to our readers and especially our commenters, particularly irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert, the unit,  Reclaiming the Sacred, and lafayetteangel who comments occasionally, but often finds our work to be worth linking to, we notice and are grateful, always.

But mostly my thanks go to Jessica who is, as I said on our third anniversary, ” A lot of it, which won’t surprise you, is Jess, more behind the scenes than I would prefer. Muse, partner, supporter, and more, I wouldn’t have made it this far without her.” And even in her illness, her prayers sustained me, as I Hope, mine helped her, and as she recovered, her friendship and support helped me immensely. And now with the return of her voice, of which our newer readers had a taste, covering much of her interests while I was gone. She promises that she will be contributing here, at least occasionally. She’s a busy lady, with many duties and I’m very grateful. not least because she makes me a better writer, as well, and as some know, we often feed off each other posts.

In addition, she cares about most of the same topics I care most about: Christianity (although she knows far more), America (and Great Britain), real feminism (not the balderdash bestowed by many of the so-called feminists), and all the rest, certainly nit excluding John Wayne, and the fabulous Maureen O’Hara.

So as we go into 2016, I’m quite optimistic about the blog’s future, all the pieces are again in place, and perhaps we will have a period of “Calm seas and fair winds”. In any case, we will be giving you our “View from the prairie” and again the view from the Norfolk plain as well.

I was going to conclude with the video of The Quiet Man, but it is apparently no longer on YouTube, although depending on the media you use, it is available on the internet somewhere. So we’ll have to settle for the Duke and Maureen in McClintock.

 

Jess and I both think that these movies, form much of the foundation myth of America, and are at least as important as the dry history we learned in school.

Happy 2016 to you all!

%d bloggers like this: