Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Dangers of Patriotic Zeal: "Taras Bulba" (1962)

The 1962 film Taras Bulba focuses on a revolution you might never have heard of if you’re not from eastern Europe. It tells the story of a 17th-century rebellion of the Zaporozhian Cossacks against their Polish overlords by focusing on a fictional family. It’s based on a book by Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol, originally released as a short story in 1835. The Tsarist Russian authorities condemned that version as being “too Ukrainian.” Gogol later revised and expanded the story into a novel that pleased those in power. 

In the film, the audience meets Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner) as a fierce, uncompromising Cossack. He and his fellow warriors assist their stronger Polish allies in defeating a band of Turkish invaders, only to have the Poles turn on the Cossacks and crush them. The Poles take over eastern Ukraine and force the Cossacks into hiding. Taras Bulba and his compatriots must cut off the scalplocks that mark them as Cossacks and take up peaceful occupations like farming. (SPOILERS from here onward.) 

Taras Bulba fathers two sons, Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez). He trains them in the Cossack ways of fighting, but eventually sends them to a Polish university in Kiev. Taras orders them to learn everything about the Polish so they can eventually overthrow them. 

While in Kiev, Andrei falls in love with a Polish princess named Natalia (Christine Kaufmann). Theirs is a forbidden romance because neither of their families could accept a marriage between a Pole and a Ukrainian. When Natalia’s brother learns of their involvement, he accuses Andrei of compromising her virtue and tries to kill him to avenge her honor. Andrei and Ostap must flee for their lives after killing several Poles in the resulting melee. They hurry home where Taras decides his sons have grown up well and are ready to become true Cossacks. 

The Polish army soon demands the Ukrainians raise a Cossack army to help them attack Turkey. Taras Bulba convinces the rest of the Zaparozhian Cossacks to attack the Poles and drive them out of the Ukrainian steppes for good. The Cossacks ride to the city of Dubno, attack and lay siege to it. 

Guess who’s inside that city? Natalia. Which fills Andrei with conflicted feelings when plague breaks out in Dubno. He tries to sneak Natalia out, but wind up getting them both captured and imprisoned for daring to fall into such an unsuitable romance. 

The Cossacks triumph. The Polish soldiers all either die or flee, and the Cossacks take over Dubno and vow to treat any remaining Poles with dignity, not the way the Poles used to treat them. It’s a rousing story of Ukrainian nationalism, forbidden romance, loyalty, and courage. But… is it factual? 

There was a Cossack uprising within Polish-controlled Ukrainian lands in the mid-1600s. Sometimes called the Cossack-Polish War, it involved the Zaparozhian Cossacks. The war pushed the Polish out of eastern Ukraine. The Russian Tsar took control of eastern Ukraine with the agreement that the Cossacks were to remain largely self-governing. 

Sadly, the Cossack-Polish War involved a lot of religious persecution against several minority groups. The Cossacks targeted both Roman Catholic priests and the Jews. By the end of the war, eastern Ukraine had become Orthodox. They forced Jewish landholders to give up their property and flee. So, while the Cossacks threw off their Polish oppressors, they turned around and oppressed other people. 

Nikolai Gogol’s novel Taras Bulba contains anti-Semitic themes that, intentionally or not, reflect the wrongful treatment of Jewish people during this slice of history. The film removes that aspect of the story and concentrates on the forbidden love between Andrei and Natalia. It shows how the unreasonable racial hatred of their families results in nothing but misery and anguish. Taras Bulba is so enraged by what he considers betrayal by his son, he shoots and kills Andrei to protect the family honor. But, by the end of the film, he feels remorse over this honor-killing and behaves kindly toward Natalia and the other remaining Poles. 

Taras Bulba is a fascinating look at where ultra-patriotic ideology can lead. Yes, it helped the Cossacks push the Polish out of the Ukrainian homeland. But it also caused a father to murder his own son. I think the filmmakers were trying to show that patriotism can be noble, but when pushed to fanatical extremes, it can be deadly. In our divisive modern world, where people get vehemently attached to one political ideology or another, that’s a lesson we need to remember.

(This post originally appeared in Femnista magazine on August 11, 2018.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

I Have Finally Figured It Out

After twenty-five years of Shakespeare's play Hamlet: Prince of Denmark fascinating me endlessly, I finally have an answer to the question "Why do you love Hamlet so much?"  I know why I was drawn to it when I first read it at the age of 17, and why I feel pulled to watch some version of it every time I move.  Why I take it off the shelf to read when I am stressed.  Why I crave it at those very particular points of my life.

(All pics from my Bookstagram)

It's because I hate change.  Anyone who knows me knows that change is my least-favorite thing.  Changed plans stress me out more than anything else.  People who change make me sad.  Graduations and weddings and funerals make me cry.  Change bothers me.  Sometimes deeply.

And, you know what I realized today?  Hamlet hates change too.

In fact, he spends the first four acts of the play raging against change.  

Everything in his life has changed.  His father has changed from alive to dead.  And then his dead father changes into a ghost.  His mother changes from loving wife of his father to loving wife of his uncle.  His uncle changes from some random dude at court into the king AND Hamlet's stepfather.  His ability to woo and court Ophelia changes from being totally fine to totally forbidden.

And Hamlet's whole life plan changes from "I'm happy at college, and some day I'll probably be king" to "I'm not permitted to go back to college, and I probably won't ever be king" to "I need to avenge my father by killing my uncle, so now I'm definitely never going to live long enough to go back to college, much less be king."

And he hates it.  He rages against it.  He refuses to accept the inevitability of change.  Claudius and Gertrude try to remind him in the very beginning of the play that death is inevitable, and Hamlet is not having it.  He refuses to accept that.  He nopes right on out of there, as fast as his inky cloak will let him.  No, no, no, change and death are not inevitable, you can just take that idea and shove it where the sun don't shine.

And then, while he's off hanging out with pirates between acts 4 and 5, Hamlet changes.  He accepts the inevitability of change and of death.  He comes back to Denmark, and he's ready for whatever is next.

And THAT is what I am drawn to, when my life is in upheaval.  That journey of Hamlet's from raging against the inevitability of change to accepting it is exactly the journey I need to take myself, every time I move somewhere new or take on a new job or face some really stressful situation.  I've always said Hamlet is cathartic for me, and that watching or reading it kind of cleanses me emotionally.  And I was never quite sure how else to explain that, but now I know.  I'm processing my own hatred of change by sharing Hamlet's, and his journey eases me along in my own.

So.  Now I know.  And now you do too. 

That's all I've got for today.  Carry on about your business.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Guest Post About Three Adaptations of "Pride and Prejudice"

I've got a guest post up over on Roof Beam Reader about my three favorite adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  It's part of the #AustenInAugust celebration held on that blog all month long.

Friday, August 12, 2022

The Honestea Tag

Olivia, Katie, Eva, and Skye all did this fun tag, and although none of them specifically tagged me, the rules say that's okay, so... that's okay!  Okay?

~The Rules~ 
  • No lies allowed. If an answer is too shameful to expose you may substitute the answer with a gif/image of someone drinking tea. 
  • There are optional bonus additions to questions but these are not for the faint of heart. 
  • If you complete the tag having answered every question + the bonus additions (no gifs used), you are dubbed a certified tea chugger, and you deserve a badge to show the world that you are not afraid of a steaming hot cup of TRUTH. 
  • Tag at least one other person (a tea party with just one is not very fun. trust me.) Untagged persons are more than welcome to fill it out as well (nothing cooler than crashing a tea party).

What is a ‘bad’ (generally disliked) movie that you actually love?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).  It's everything I want in a Wolverine movie.  I infinitely prefer it to The Wolverine (2013), which was long and pedantic.  This one is funny, has a great brothers-to-enemies-to-allies arc, and includes my favorite love interest for Wolvie from the comic books, Silver Fox.

What is your most shocking reading habit? 

Imagining that, when I buy a book, I am also buying the time to read the book, and therefore I have piled up more than 500 unread books in my house over the last ten years.  I'm not exaggerating.  It's become grotesque, but I'm reading my way through them at a steady rate now, so at least that's something.

Tell us the number one lie you write in your posts. 

That I'm going to watch a movie or read a book soon!  I have 500+ unread books on my TBR shelves and probably 100+ unwatched movies on my TBW shelves. "Soon" means "eventually."

Tell us the worst character name you’ve ever thought up. 

I wrote a character named Stirling when I was a teen.  He had a sterling character.

What is the real reason you procrastinate writing your work in progress? 

I enjoy watching movies more than writing books.

What is a genre of music you secretly love? 

Probably not many people around here know I enjoy thrash metal.  Especially classic Metallica.  Especially a lot of the cover songs they put on "Garage Inc" and the symphony-enhanced stuff on their first "S&M" album.

If you’re a plotter, what do you really think of pansters? If you’re a panster, what do you really think of plotters? 

I'm a plantser.  I think plotters should stop imagining they're better than pantsers, and I think pantsers should stop imagining they're cooler than plotters.

Share at least three lines of dialogue from one of your first writing projects.

All my early writing is packed away in a box somewhere, and I am not going to wade through all the boxes of stuff in my basement to find it. So...

Tell us the title & artist of the last song you listened to. 

I've got Postmodern Jukebox up on my laptop this afternoon, and the song that just finished was their 50s-style cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" :-D

Which beloved book/movie character do you dislike & why? 

Emma Woodhouse in Emma by Jane Austen.  She's such a brat for 98% of the book.  I get that it's part of her character arc, but I don't enjoy being around her.  Or, at least, I haven't -- I'm planning to reread Emma this month for Austen in August, so you never know.  I might like her better now.  (Caveat: I love her as portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma [1996].  But the book character, not so much.)

Tell us the title & topic of a post you have left in draft. 

I have loads.  My Ten Favorite Swashbucklers.  Why I Watch Film Noir.  Story Versus Medium.  I'll probably post that first one pretty soon, but the other two have languished a long time.  Will I ever finish them?  I don't know.  Maybe Rudy knows.  But he's not telling.

What is a book you pretend you’ve read/would like to read but know you never will?

I keep saying I'm going to read Moby-Dick and Don Quixote.  But I haven't yet.  On the other hand, I said for years that I was going to read War and Peace, and I did!  So I might, yet.

Tell us the title & topic of the most embarrassing post you’ve ever written. 

Why would I post something I'm embarrassed by?  I honestly don't have an answer to this one.  So...

And that's that!  If you want to join in the fun, here are the questions, for your convenience:
  • What is a ‘bad’ (generally disliked) movie that you actually love? 
  • What is your most shocking reading habit? 
  • Tell us the number one lie you write in your posts. 
  • Tell us the worst character name you’ve ever thought up. {Bonus: share a character name you find ridiculous in a book/movie.} 
  • What is the real reason you procrastinate writing your work in progress? 
  • What is a genre of music you secretly love? 
  • If you’re a plotter, what do you really think of pansters? If you’re a panster, what do you really think of plotters? 
  • Share at least three lines of dialogue from one of your first writing projects. {Bonus: give us the good stuff. your most gruesome butchering of the English language.} 
  • Tell us the title & artist of the last song you listened to. 
  • Which beloved book/movie character do you dislike & why? 
  • Tell us the title & topic of a post you have left in draft. 
  • What is a book you pretend you’ve read/would like to read but know you never will? {Bonus: share a time when claiming you’ve read a classic/well-known book didn’t end well} 
  • Tell us the title & topic of the most embarrassing post you’ve ever written. {Bonus: include. the. link.}

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Character Art for "My Rock and My Refuge"

I commissioned Skye Hoffert to create character art for the "Beauty" and "Beast" characters in my new book, My Rock and My Refuge.  It's the first time I've ever done this for one of my books, and I was kind of nervous about the idea, to be honest.  Which is why Skye was the first person I approached, because I already know I like her artwork, but better yet, I like HER.  I knew I could trust her to listen to my descriptions of the characters, really look at the inspiration photos I sent, and craft something beautiful.

And she did.  Today, I'm unveiling the character art everywhere, so here it is!  Feast thine eyes!

Marta Beckmann is a twenty-seven-year-old German immigrant who came to America with her older brother Jakob to earn money to help save her family's bakery back home.  When they need to leave their jobs in Denver due to personal reasons, they take new work as servants in the home of a wealthy recluse they've never met, high in the Colorado mountains in the world of gold and silver mining.

Arthur Wendell is, you guessed it, the wealthy recluse who hires them.  Scarred inside and out after a grizzly bear attack years ago, he hides in his home and only interacts with a few close friends.  But when Marta and Jakob come to work for him, his life slowly begins to change.

I also decided to pair these beautiful portraits with some of my favorite lines from these characters, so you get to enjoy those today too!

Tell me what you think!

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Movie Music: Alan Silvestri's "The Quick and the Dead" (1995)

I, Hamlette, love westerns. You probably know that by now, since I just finished co-hosting Legends of Western Cinema Week for the... fourth year?  Something like that. 

I feel like The Quick and the Dead (1995) is not an especially well-known movie, so I'll quick recap what it's about: An unknown female gunslinger (Sharon Stone) enters a gunfighting competition on a quest to avenge her father's death. It is a leeeeeetle bit cheesy here and there, but that's more than made up for by the presence of Russell Crowe as a killer turned pacifistic preacher, and of Gene Hackman as the powerful man who runs the town and knows everyone's secrets. There's also a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gary Sinise is in a flashback scene. Good cast, good music, satisfying story. It's rated R, though, so watch with caution, as there are some skippable things. 

But you don't need any caution when listening to the soundtrack by Alan Silvestri! Here are a few tracks to give you an idea of what the soundtrack as a whole is like.

"Redemption" has such a classic western sound to it, with the whistling, the whip-cracks, and lots of guitar. Really captures the exciting-but-sometimes-dark-and-pensive tone for the movie. 

"The Big Day" starts off all edgy and off-kilter, upping the tension handily. It builds slowly, finally reaching a moody climax that conveys more sorrow than triumph. 

Back to that main theme again that you heard in "Redemption," only this time it's presented with a clear and determined trumpet instead of whistling. Then, because this is played during the end credits and composers like to do this, it pulls in other themes from throughout the score, so that this one track is kind of a nice overview of the major themes.  In fact, it might be my favorite track on the whole album!

Silvestri's score for The Quick and the Dead is one of my favorites to write to, especially if I'm writing action scenes or gunfights.  But it's also great when I need a little burst of energy while cooking or doing housework.

(Most of this review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on October 22, 2015.)