Friday, February 29, 2008

THE FIVE SONGS: SECOND INSTANCE. Well, I wasn't planning on doing one of these again so soon but hey it's new and it's something novel in this here blog and Cheekies was good enough to posit a theme: Five Songs About Interracial Couples. Now at first I didn't think there were many songs but I quickly changed my tune. So when asked to come up with five songs about interracial couples I came up with these; and I decided to not ALWAYS go for the obvious.
  1. BROTHER LOUIE by Stories. I decided to start slightly silly with some funky 70's bubblegum fluff. Now this is a totally outrageous, kitschy song that still deals with a white man falling in love with a black woman. This first verse is pure 70's: "She was black as the night/Louie was whiter than white/Danger, danger when you taste brown sugar/Louie fell in love overnight." Talk about songwriting with all the subtlety of being bludgeoned with a pet rock, they also manage a sideways reference to a Rolling Stones song about an interracial couple (and no I'm not choosing BROWN SUGAR for my five songs -- that would be TOO obvious). But even in all this bell-bottom bluster, some serious trouble raises its ugly head: "When he took her home/To meet his mama and papa/Louie knew just where he stood." Uh oh. This doesn't look good.
  2. SOCIETY'S CHILD by Janis Ian. Here we have a much more serious song concerning a white woman loving a black man. This song is full of "smirking stares" and taunts of "why don't you stick with your own kind." She even gets grief from her mother: "Now I could understand your tears and your shame/She called you "boy" instead of your name/When she wouldn't let you inside/When she turned and said"But honey, he's not our kind." Sadly, because the narrator of the song is just "Society's Child" and subject to the pressures of those around her, she tells him she can't see him anymore. But she also offers some hope with the line: "One of these days I'm gonna stop my listening/Gonna raise my head up high/One of these days I'm gonna raise up my glistening wings and fly/But that day will have to wait for a while/Baby I'm only society's child/When we're older things may change/But for now this is the way they must remain." The version of the song I have is a live version and not the "jingly jangly" original version.
  3. CHINA GIRL by David Bowie. Oh baby, just you shut your mouth. This time we have an English guy falling for a Chinese woman. At first everything seems hunky dory (yes, that was deliberate) as things seem to be great between them. He's a mess without his little China Girl. However, storm clouds creep into the song and things seem to get a little threatening: "My little China Girl/You shouldn't mess with me/I'll ruin everything you are." However, the woman always seems able to silence him with an "Oh baby, just you shut your mouth."
  4. POOR BOY by Split Enz. Here we go even farther afield as we find a love song between an Earth man and an Alien woman. "My love is alien/I picked her up by chance/she speaks to me with ultra-high frequency." What could be more "interracial" than a romance between a member of the human race and an alien race? My favourite line in the song is when Tim Finn croons: "You're looking at an interplanetary Romeo!"
  5. FISH & BIRD by Tom Waits. Interspecies romance??? You got it. I told you I wasn't going to keep to the obvious for long. The exact line in the song sums it all up: "A song of a little bird that fell in love with a whale." This has got to have some of the sweetest lyrics of any love song. I'm sorry but you'll have to indulge me -- "He said, 'You cannot live in the ocean'/And she said to him 'You never can live in the sky'/But the ocean is filled with tears/And the sea turns into a mirror/There's a whale in the moon when it's clear/And a bird on the tide/Please don't cry/Let me dry your eyes/So tell me that you will wait for me/Hold me in your arms/I promise we never will part/I'll never sail back to the time/But I'll always pretend you're mine/Though I know that we both must part/You can live in my heart." This is from Tom Wait's superb album ALICE. Thanks, Ilsa*

And there you have it. My first instinct was I couldn't come up with anything but I was soon proven wrong. Thanks again to Sweet Cheeks for the great suggestion. And join us once again next time when we look at The Five Songs.

THE FIVE SONGS: THE FIRST INSTANCE. As you no doubt already know, Weaverman has suggested the theme of "necrophilia" (and now perhaps we know why Jolly Old England is so jolly)!
  1. I WANT MY BABY BACK by Jimmy Cross. I mean really, what song would pop into my mind MORE about necrophilia. This is probably my favourite parody of all those "Teen Angel/Leader of the Pack" type songs in which our hero and his baby are returning from a Beatles concert only to crash into "some mushhead on a motorcycle". The truly priceless description the singer gives when he sees his baby lying dead still makes me laugh: "And over there was my baby. And over THERE was my baby. And WAY OVER THERE was my baby". Naturally, the singer misses his baby so much that he eventually digs her up and climbs in the coffin with her.
  2. THE LEADER OF THE PACK by The Shangri-Las. Well, after it was mentioned in the last song's description, how could I not?!? There was something really scrappy about The Shangri-Las; those tough girls in school you didn't want to mess with or else they'd tune you up. That's why I kinda like them. Although this is not my favourite song of theirs (that would be OUT IN THE STREETS), it's just so melodramatic. "As he drove away on that rainy night I begged him to go slow but whether he heard I'll never know. Look out! Look out! Look out!!!" Now there's no overt necrophilia going on here but I just can't help but feel that, once Jimmy's been planted, our singer is gonna pop some wheelies right on over to the cemetery and. . .
  3. ANNABEL LEE by Marianne Faithful. This may seem like something of a cheat because it's actually Marianne Faithful reciting the Edgar Allan Poe poem to music. But it's still a song because I say so! This is from the CLOSED ON ACCOUNT OF RABIES double CD. Faithful gives one of the best readings of the poem this side of George Segal in LOST AND FOUND (which, if you've seen that movie, is pretty damn effective). Again, the history of pop music doesn't feature actual necrophiliac lyrics all that often but this song (or poem) sure gives me that impression. Marianne Faithful gives the narrator such a feeling of earnest obsession that one is merely waiting for the moment when he flips the lid and climbs into Annabel's crypt. That's probably the "unsung" action which happens after the song has ended; because I just know that Poe's protagonist is not gonna give up THAT easily.
  4. WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds featuring Kylie Minogue. OK, now this song is a slap-bang traditional murder ballad (fitting since it appears on Nick Cave's album entitled MURDER BALLADS). However, once again the lyrics are extremely suggestive to me in that things ain't gonna stop with simple murder. Not with ole Nick. "On the third day he took me to the river/He showed me the roses and we kissed/And the last thing I heard was a muttered wordAs he knelt above me with a rock in his fist" sings Kylie. "On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow/And she lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief/And I kissed her goodbye, said, "All beauty must die"/And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth." You old homicidal romantic, you!

5. DEAD BODY MAN by Insane Clown Posse. OK, no more foolin' around. Not only does this song feature actually necrophilia but also cannibalism and assorted other goodies. All this and a head-nodding groove. Actually one of my favourite songs on RIDDLE BOX; probably second only to a Lil Somthin' Somthin'. The Juggalos know how to do necrophilia right! "Dead bodies, dead bodies all over the street/Fifty-five, sixty-five bodies at least/I hang with the stiffs till the break of dawn/I'm always finding bodies when I'm mowing the lawn/Drag 'em in the house/ throw 'em in the oven/Wicked clown lovin' that dead body gloven." I mean, that's what necrophilia means to me!!! And what a perfect way to bring this installment of the five songs to a close.

Thanks to Weaverman for suggesting the topic (and here's hoping you live it down). Join me again the next time I present the five songs.

THE FIVE SONGS MISSION STATEMENT. So, I've been a little remiss in the music department here on the ole blog. It's been mostly movies (and there's nothing wrong with that) but this isn't a movie only blog so. . .In order to rectify that situation, I came up with something really stupid to inflict upon you all.
It was once upon a time when I used to do the Top Ten Tunes of Each Month but I really don't do that anymore since Cerpts Tapes were the main outlet and they seem to have gone the way of the Dodo Bird (replaced by Cerpts CDs, of course, which somehow do not lend themselves to the top ten list quite like the tapes did). So what I'm going to do instead is something similar but different.
Periodically (not on a monthly basis, not necessarily on a weekly basis but pretty much whenever the hell I feel like it) I will put up a list of five songs. Now, these songs could be five that I've been listening to particularly often or they could be five songs which somehow represent the week I've just lived through or they could simply be five songs on a particular theme or merely five songs I just want to talk about. Any way you slice it, there will be five songs of particular importance to me.
"So what", I hear you squirt. Well, there's a catch. Because at any time, whenever you, gentle reader, feel like it, you can hijack the whole process -- meaning you may at any time suggest a particular topic or theme for which you'd like me to come up with a five songs list. It'll be like a challenge hurled at me. And the object is not to choose "just any" songs which fit the theme but the most meaningful and appropriate to me that I can come up with. Now, you COULD go for the easy, dull route by suggesting five songs about puppy dogs or such like that -- OR you could go for the really interesting route and challenge me with suggesting songs that represent "plaid" to me, for instance -- or five camping songs (as in campgrounds and tents and not as in John Inman in a pantomime show!).
The only rules are these:
  1. I can only choose from songs I actually own.
  2. You can suggest the theme you'd like me to use for the five songs in the comment section of this blog after the current "Five Songs" have been posted. (Of course, I'm not going to strictly adhere to this rule -- if you happen to see me in person and suggest something before you can post it in the comment section I will still go ahead and accept it.
  3. "Accept it" is the operative word. I will "accept" the theme which appeals to me and interests me the most. This, however, does not mean I won't accept more than one suggestion -- that'll just mean the five songs will appear even MORE frequently in this blog. And I will "accept" pretty much anything I can do anything with; it will be a rare occasion (I hope) when I don't accept something -- and that will only be because it doesn't "speak to me". Ahem.
  4. I will clearly announce which theme I've accepted in the self-same comments section on this blog.
  5. There ain't no prize money so don't get too excited. You'll only win my undying admiration and provide me with an interesting musical parlour game while I'm rotting away at work. So I would be extremely grateful for any and all imput.

OK? Simple enough, I'd say. So stay tuned for the first installment of the five songs coming soon to this blog. And thanks for listening.

Oh, and P.S. You may be wondering "Why five songs?" Well, I suppose I patterned them after The Five Mystical Songs composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It's one of those classical music things; don't let it worry you. It just appealed to me somehow. . .

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CIPHER IN THE SNOW REVEALED. Well, it's finally happened. That DVD has arrived containing the short film I was shown in 5th grade which has haunted me lo these many years. Really the opening sequence only stayed with me since I remembered nothing else in the movie. So I thought I just had to show you the beginning -- and it was exactly as I'd remembered it.
The film opens with a bunch of kids waiting for the bus on a snowy day. You'll notice our boy is away off on his own hanging his head. Maybe it's because he's wearing a jean jacket with jeans?
Then the bus arrives into view, pulls up and all the kids get on. Only then does our boy board the bus too. Notice he's STILL hanging his head -- he does that a lot.
Once on the bus, our boy sullenly takes a seat (still hanging his head) while all the other kids talk animatedly around him. He naturally is ignored and does not join in.
Suddenly our boy gets up and walks to the bus driver. He apologizes and says he's got to get off the bus.
The bus driver pulls over and lets our boy off (like this would happen today!). Our boy takes a couple tentative steps. . .
. . .and falls face first in the snow (probably where a huskie just peed -- that would be his luck) and simply drops dead (literally). To underline the tragedy and emptiness (it WAS the 70's after all) the filmmakers freeze frame and insert the title card over the scene.
Now this is just great stuff! Bleak and hopeless -- just the way I like it! Things go on in the film for another 20 minutes give or take but nothing really measures up to this opening scene. Now, our boy was not on drugs or sick with a terminal illness; he simply stopped living. The film doesn't really tell us why except to postulate that our boy was so ignored and ostracized by teachers, students and family alike that he simply stopped living. Faded away like the "cipher" -- the "zero" -- he was treated as in life. It is interesting that the blame is placed equally on the boy's teachers for ignoring him -- interesting in the fact that MY teachers in MY school actually showed this film to us -- since the preoccupied teachers come off looking as culpable as the heartless students and lousy parents. The morale of the film is probably that we should treat each other better and not "blank" each other. However, I would rather take away from the film the idea that we can cause anybody we don't like to drop dead just by ignoring them. I'm gonna give that technique a try; I don't know about you.
The other 4 short films on the DVD are actually just as enjoyable to watch (in a "made-to-be-shown-in-the-classroom" way) and all of them pretty much retain that wonderful 70's downbeat feeling -- even though they are all supposed to be uplifting!!! "THE GIFT" is a nice little Christmas story which tries to tell us kids that we should do our chores BEFORE we're asked to do so and we'll be better people. THE EMMETT SMITH STORY has, in fact, absolutely NOTHING to do with a certain famous football player but is instead a true story about ANOTHER Emmett Smith who was a high school coach who had a brain tumor that was successfully operated upon resulting in a struggle to walk again. He in turn helps a paralyzed student to walk up to get her high school diploma. JOHN BAKER'S LAST RACE finds us watching yet ANOTHER high school coach -- but this time he's dying from cancer. . . but not enough to stop him from coaching the track team. This is also based on a true story. Finally THE PHONE CALL finds Mark McClure (Jimmy Olsen from Superman the Movie) as a dork who can't seem to ask a girl out on a date. This in fact is the most comedic of the bunch and is probably a welcome way to end the DVD after so many downers.
For those of us of a certain age who grew up in the 70's this DVD is truly a real blast from the past. I found it online very simply by searching for CIPHER IN THE SNOW on DVD. And if you can find it, the fairly cheap price makes it worthwhile to seek out. If you're into that kinda thing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

NOW VIEW MY SHAME. Yes, my friend Bumbler the Nuclear Puggle recently put a link to my blog on his blog and said that I don't have any "doggies or kitties". And while that is TECHNICALLY true, there are my parents who have taken in stray cats over the years. Now, keep in mind that these cats are supposedly "feral" and could never never never be domesticated enough to stay in the house etc. This is the conventional wisdom. However, four of these "feral" cats spend most of their time inside my parents' house. And they look quite comfortable doing it, I must say. Yes, my parents who were always confirmed dog lovers and wouldn't give cats the time of day now have a bunch of cats running around their yard and house. And here is the photographic evidence!!!
First we have Gypsy. She is my mother's favourite. And she knows it. Here we see her lounging -- which is something she does best.
Next we have Tippy: all white with a black tail. My grandmother named her. Apparently this one likes me best; that's what they tell me anyhow. Whenever I go in my parents' house, she's the one who will come up to me. She obviously is unaware of my plans to sell them all to the local Chinese restaurant.
Here we have the whole gang. . .well, not the WHOLE gang but several. In the foreground, with the sun glinted off her big fat butt is Tippy. Then we have Cracker walking towards the camera. She's my dad's favourite. That's obviously because she has the Devil in her. And yes, you're not seeing things; Cracker actually DOES have a Moe haircut. Cracker and Tippy are sisters. The twisted sisters. That black cat there is not Gypsy who is completely black but Bogart who has white on his neck. Then in the back we have the grey and white Wiley who is B.C.O.C (Big Cat On Campus). His father was Tom whom my parents had to have put to sleep a couple years ago. I wrote about it about two years ago on my blog (long time readers might recall but here's the link to it). So Wiley is therefore the boss. He thinks.
Finally we have Wiley and Cracker and kittie togetherness. No, there's no need to avert your eyes; they ain't doin' nuthin'! All the cats have been fixed so nothing unsavory is going on. They're all just EXTREMELY talented in the snoozing department.
Now that is nowhere near ALL the cats are running around my folks' place but Gypsy, Cracker, Wiley and Tippy are the only "indoor" cats. However, they graciously allow my parents to continue living there since the cats have them trained fairly well by now. And there you have my sad, sad tale. Yes, all these cats and not a puggle (or any other dog) in sight. Pepe must be rolling in his grave!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I would like to thank my good friend Bumbler for providing me with a site which gave me my very own aristocratic title (see below). I would've thought I was a higher rank than a count but what's good enough for the King of Vampires is good enough for me. By the way, my friend Bumber thinks he is a puggle. He's funny that way but I let him have his little peccadillos. Here is a photo of him. He was younger then but he's vain and prefers I publish photos from his gloriously golden youth. And here is his blog site which I have been totally slacky in providing youse all until now. It will also join the list of links on the right there. Please don't pee on it because peeing if for outside not inside the house. My friend Bumbler is really fun to watch Rocky Horror with; he's mad bombadiddly with the confetti, yo. He's also a great pal to watch football with although sometimes he falls victim to power naps mid-game after overdosing on major snackies.
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Count-Palatine Rickster the Elegant of Bumpstead under Carpet
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
THE OMEGA FACTOR. Sometime around 1983, 1984 or even 1985 I saw THE OMEGA FACTOR for the first time when it was broadcast on PBS briefly. The BBC series only lasted 10 episodes in 1979 and was actually, with hindsight, a pretty strong candidate (along with THE NIGHT STALKER) as an inspiration for THE X-FILES many years later. The show concerned itself with the paranormal and a secret government agency called Department 7 which investigated them. The series starred the late James Hazeldine (who I often confused with Robert Powell) as Tom Crane: a journalist who discovered he had psychic powers of his own. Also headlining the cast was Louise Jameson as physicist Dr. Anne Reynolds; Jameson is probably best known as the Doctor's savage companion Leela in DOCTOR WHO as well as for her later stint on EASTENDERS.
Now when I saw the first episode (entitled THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY) I was totally captivated; what a terrific premise for a series. Tom Crane is a journalist who writes about the occult. He tracks down an Aleister Crowley-type black magician named Drexil (and his mysterious mute female sidekick Morag) who gently but firmly warns Crane to mind his own business. When Crane continues to snoop, Drexel (superbly played by Cyril Luckham with a kind of understated evil) causes some supernatural warnings to put fear into the guy. Not taking no for an answer, Drexel puts a stronger whammy on Crane while he's driving in his car with his wife; Crane crashes the car and his wife is killed. During the episode, Crane discovers he has psychic powers of his own and a mysterious stranger recruits Crane into joining the secret government paranormal investigative Department 7 in order to serve his country as well as track down his wife's killer. The episode ends on this rather promising start.
Now here I am back in the early 80's videotaping this first episode off the TV. Swell, I thought. Can't wait to see what happens next. Secret government intrigue combined with nice, juicy 70's occult shenanigans. Two likeable, very watchable actors as the lead characters. What could be better? Well, I somehow managed to miss the second episode when it aired and the third episode, when I caught it, didn't thrill me as I recall and I never saw any of the rest of the series. Fast forward to a couple years ago when THE OMEGA FACTOR was finally released on DVD. I didn't pick it up at the time because I wasn't sure I wanted it; however recently I did break down and buy the thing so I could finally see what I was missing (as well as getting the terrific first episode on DVD). Having now watched the entire series, I can now say that there are a couple good episodes but on the whole the series was disappointing. I think this owes a lot to the fact that the production was under-budgeted and rushed into production at the time. However, I think the main problem with the series was the fact that it quickly veered away from the spooky, occult atmospherics in favour of rather bland, semi-espionage and rather bloodless, clinical psychic research. The first episode led one to believe that this was going to be a nice, creepy little series focusing on black magic and witchcraft cults. But that was sadly not the case. Even the mage-like Drexel is reduced to a sort-of scientist and killed off fairly early in the series. Big disappointment.
The one bright spot (other than the first episode) was the episode called POWERS OF DARKNESS which (sadly only) momentarily returns the series to a spooky, supernatural format. The episode opens with three college students conducting a ouija board seance in which they contact the spirit of a long-dead witch during the reign of King James. Later, one of the students (very nicely played by Maggie James) is hypnotized and regresses to a former life in which she was that self-same witch. The episode is splendidly spooky in that 70's Hammer Horror way and gives us an all-too-fleeting glimpse of what the series COULD have been. In my humble opinion, if THE OMEGA FACTOR had stuck with the occult spookfest format it would have lasted a lot longer and been much more successful entertainment-wise. The series all-too-often seemed to suffer from the "not much happening" syndrome; particularly the last two episode in which practically NOTHING happens. The series, in fact, comes to an end extremely weakly. Only episode 1 & 5 can I recommend as well-worth watching. The rest of the series sadly plays like a series left unrealized. Hazeldine and Jameson make two very good leads and it's a shame they weren't given more to do. Also the location shooting in Edinburgh is uniformly beautiful. But THE OMEGA FACTOR as a whole plays more like a good opportunity wasted.

Friday, February 22, 2008

BIRTHDAY WISHES TO SOME PRETTY COOL PEOPLE. Yes indeed, I just noticed that today is the birthday of a passle of interesting folks.
  • NIGEL PLANER - is 55 years old today. It seems hard to fathom that the ultra-hippy Neil from THE YOUNG ONES could possibly be that old! Have a pot of lentils in his honour.
  • JULIE WALTERS - is 58 today. I will forever associate her with one movie role and that is her Oscar-nominated turn in EDUCATING RITA. Love that movie! Legally change your name to "Rita" in her honour.
  • MARNI NIXON - is 78 today. Marni Nixon was mostly unknown because she anonymously provided the singing voice for Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY and for Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY to name a few. Hum a few bars of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" in her honour.
  • KENNETH WILLIAMS - would've been 82 today. This guy cracks me up! From all the CARRY ON movies to his hilarious appearances on the BBC radio show ROUND THE HORNE ("If you frown, you'll get crow's feet!) to his one-man show AN AUDIENCE WITH KENNETH WILLIAMS, he was a national treasure who died too soon. Flare your nostrils in his honour.
  • DON THE BEACHCOMBER - would've been 101 today. Don was the originator of the whole tiki/lounge craze that started in the 40's-50's which I love so much. He opened Don the Beachcomber restaurants across the country, invented many tropical drinks including the zombie and was pretty much a righteous mellow dude. Put on a Martin Denny record and mix yourself a tropical drink in his honour.
  • DWIGHT FRYE - would have been 109 today. The great character actor who appeared in countless classic horror films. He played Renfield to Bela Lugosi's DRACULA as well as playing the hunchbacked servant in 1931's FRANKENSTEIN. And he also did that faboo Renfield laugh I love to do so often. C'mon. . . do the Renfield laugh in his honour. Hnnnnnnhh-Hnnnnnnnhhhh-Hnnnnnnnnnhhhhh!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

FAREWELL TO THE CREATURE. I was just informed today that Ben Chapman, the actor who played the Creature from the Black Lagoon in the original film's non-swimming sequences, has died. I had the pleasure to meet Ben Chapman on several occasions and he was the nicest gentlemen you're ever likely to meet. Way back in 2002, when I met him for the first time in the company of delightful Black Lagoon co-star Julie Adams (who has since made an appearance as one of the Others in the TV show LOST), both Chapman and Adams told me how much their fans meant to them and how grateful they were that they were remembered with such love and affection by horror fans everywhere. I will miss seeing and talking to Ben Chapman on the convention circuit. Aloha, Ben.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

GOD'S JESTER. Roberto Rossellini's 1950 film THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS is such a treat. Each scene is indeed like a little flower (indeed since the movie is partly based on the medieval text "The Little Flowers of St. Francis" which presents different vignettes in his life) or the scenes could more pedantically be called little gems. The simplicity of St. Francis' life and ministry is echoed in the extremely simple way Rossellini filmed the movie; no fancy edits or montages -- everything is generally shot straight-forwardly at eye level. Rossellini's neorealist past can be seen in the way the film is shot; however there is also a strange "dream-like" quality at the same time (possibly because Federico Fellini helped with his mentor's screenplay). The real joy of the film is its overwhelming innocence; what Peter Brunette calls "a film that is self-consciously, almost militantly, naive". The film is populated almost exclusively with non-actors; only one "real" actor Aldo Fabrizi has a part as Nicolaio the Tyrant -- and the guy truly looks like a living muppet! All the parts of the monks are played by actual Franciscan monks. Brother Nazario Gerardi is perfect as Saint Francis himself and the same can be said for Brother Severino Pisacane as the inept Brother Ginepro and local hobo Esposito Bonaventura (aka "Peparuolo" which translates as having a red nose from excessive drinking) as the truly imbecilic but lovable Brother Giovanni.
The film opens after Pope Innocent has given Francis permission to start his ministry. Francis and his followers have all taken a vow of extreme poverty and basically exist to roam the countryside doing good. Each scene or tableau is remarkable, touching and downright funny; not in a self-conscious, artfully comedic way but genuinely, deep-down funny. I found myself grinning through most of the film. It was obviously Rossellini's intent to focus on the joy and humour of Saint Francis' life and dispense completely with the Cecil B. DeMille-type holier-than-thou glowing icon religiousity that could've made this one heavy, leaden movie. In fact, that's the most remarkable thing about this movie: the scene with St. Francis and the leper is really the only one which is completely serious -- all the rest of the movie displays a comfortable humour which is SO refreshing and easy to watch. In one scene, Brother Ginepro returns naked because he gave his robes to a poor person. When Ginepro explains that Francis instructed them to give away all they had to the poor, Francis gently admonishes him and orders him not to give away his robe anymore. Of course, later in the film Ginepro returns naked once again -- he explains that he hasn't disobeyed Francis at all. Ginepro told the beggar that he was forbidden by his master from giving away his robe -- but if the beggar was to take it off his back he wouldn't resist. This is the way Francis' followers behave: essentially like children. Francis is frequently seen shaking his head and smiling at his followers' naivete. At one point, a sick brother is fasting but asks for a pig's foot to eat. Ginepro immediately goes out, finds some pigs, bargains with one of them and proceeds to cut off the still-living pig's foot.
Probably one of the most famous scenes occurs when Francis, alone at night in prayer, sees a leper. Francis' overwhelming compassion is illustrated when he repeatedly touches and finally embraces the leper. At first the leper resists (he is even forced to wear a bell so people will hear him and keep away) but he finally allows himself to be embraced and actually embraces back for a moment. A truly powerful and emotional scene. In another famous scene, Ginepro is told to stay behind and cook a meal while all the others go out to preach. Disappointed, Ginepro (and the simple-minded Giovanni) decide to cook ALL the food they've got in one big pot -- two weeks worth of food -- so that it will all be cooked and he will be able to go out and preach. While Ginepro is throwing everything into the pot -- greens, hens -- and throwing more wood on the fire -- Giovanni proceeds to throw wood INTO THE POT. Upon his return, Ginepro proudly announces what he's done. Francis again covers his eyes, shakes his head in gentle amusement and tells Ginepro he can go out and preach. However, Francis commands that before he begins preaching Ginepro must say "Bo Bo Bo, I talk a lot but accomplish little" since preaching by example is more effective than by words.
Here follows a truly remarkable scene when Ginepro heads out to an invading army camp of barbarians. He begins with his "Bo Bo Bo" speech but the barbarians grab him up and throw the monk around like a ball; even using the monk's body as a jump rope. Ginepro, the good Franciscan that he is, doesn't resist but allows them to beat him to a pulp. On the verge of being executed, a priest appeals to the barbarian leader Nicolaio to spare Ginepro's life. The chieftain (appearing in a ridiculously large suit of armour) takes the little monk into his tent and repeatedly threatens him with bodily harm. Ginepro only smiles lovingly. Nicolaio pushes fists in Ginepro's face and yanks his hair out; still the monk just smiles and offers no resistance. The barbarian chief even puts his thumbs over Ginepro's eyes as if he's about to gouge them out. Still no resistance. Ginepro's constant smile breaks the barbarian; he orders the camp to be struck and they end the siege. Pisacane as Ginepro really shines in this sequence.
It's probably impossible to pick one favourite scene: the leper scene, Ginepro's cooking pot and encounter with the barbarians are all strong contenders. However, I keep coming back to the final scene in the film when Francis informs the monks that they must split up and preach throughout the world. When they ask where they should go, the monks are told by Francis to spin around in place like children at play until they get dizzy. Whichever direction they are facing when they fall, that is where they should go. The monks all spin around and fall. A rare occurence of music occurs (by Renzo Rossellini) as the monks fall to the ground. However, old simpleton Giovanni is still standing . . . and still spinning. "Aren't you dizzy yet?" asks Francis. "No" says Giovanni and keeps spinning. After a few more moments, Francis asks again "Still not dizzy?" "No" says the old man. Francis covers his eyes and smiles with loving bemusement. "Oh, now I'm dizzy" Giovanni finally sighs and is helped to the ground. Francis then asks each monk in turn where he is facing -- "And you?" "And you?" There is something strangely powerful in this scene; like we the viewers are present at a momentous beginning -- which in fact we are. "And you, Giovanni, where were you facing?" Francis asks finally. The old man replies "I was facing that sparrow hopping in those trees over there." The monks all laugh -- as does Francis -- but Francis tells Giovanni that God has obviously intended for Giovanni to follow that bird to do his will. The monks all say their final farewells and start off in all directions. And this is where the film ends.
I've always had a very soft spot for St. Francis -- mainly because of what he tells Ginepro in this very movie -- and what, I think, Rossellini is trying to point out -- that preaching with words is not the thing to do -- it's actions and behaviour that matters. Think of Mother Teresa who, despite all her struggles and doubts about her faith, put her money where he mouth was and spent an entire lifetime helping the poor. Who really wants someone telling you how to live. It's much more effective when they are an example of how to live in their daily life. St. Francis was a rich, spoiled guy who gave away everything he had and devoted his life to poverty and helping others. He was following that little thing called the golden rule. It seems to me that if we stopped trying to force our own personal idea of God and religion down each others throats and merely treated each other like we would ourselves wish to be treated, we would be a hell of a lot better off. THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS gives a glimpse of what that would be like. Rossellini's movie deals with faith, sure -- but I would not call it a religious movie -- that is, a movie about religion. It instead shows a group of people who devote their lives completely to helping others and just simply being nice and compassionate. Perhaps in that sense you could call this a science fiction movie since there is very little likelihood of that happening anytime soon.