Filed under: Films | Tags: faulkner, military, mulatto, mules, old man, southern literature, zora neale hurston
They said he was 65 years old. i dont know about that now that’s a long life for a mule. but he eventually died. they rooted him over into that pond that old skeleton lying there with the hide all on him just as tough as anything you ever seen. and a big hole in his throat here where the buzzards and things had eaten him, eaten him up him they couldn’t have eat him all. i was a fishin’ in there one day and dropped my bait down there in that hole. that old mule laying in there all puffed up. dried up on the skeleton. and there’s a big warmouth perch run out of it up here and bit my hook, took it in that old mule right that quick you know and he got off of there got loose. and i went to pull the hook out and i must of hung it on one of his ribs and i had to break it off. but i put on another hook and dropped down there and i caught a big one you know. the bones had come out of his legs, the skin was laying there you know just as tough as a, just tough as a bear you know. and i got over this deep in the water and went down there and got ahold of them legs and dug that old mule out there on the hill and there was one hundred and fourteen warmouth in him, was warmouth perch. i could hear em a flutterin’ just quick as i run out on hill with him, the water run out of him and i could hear them a flutterin’ in there you know. [laughter]
Now, I’ve heard fish tales. And I’ve heard mule tales. In fact, I wrote a whole paper (it was more of a list) on mules in Faulkner’s story “Old Man.” Mules also pervade the work of Zora Neale Hurston. But this epic combination of the two is from the Eroll Morris documentary Vernon, Florida. An unnamed resident of Vernon quite candidly tells the documentary crew about his big catch. Here he is:
Objectively, the story is hard to believe and would be disgusting if true. Can you imagine pulling on the bone-less legs of a dead mule? Let alone eating the fish that had been living in the carcass… But examining it as a cultural phenomenon, the American mule tale, is quite fascinating to me. Mules pop up all over Southern fiction, from Faulkner and Hurston to Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. Half the time they are dead and the other half they are mocking humans.
Traditionally, mules were bred in America for labor and used in war. They are known for their productive resilience and stubbornness. They can take paths and climbs that are impossible for horses. Apparently, American military currently uses them in the war in Afghanistan.
Mules are the offspring of a male donkey mated with a mare. They are notoriously sterile. Scholars have pointed to the historical association of mules with mulattos (people of mixed race, white and black). Pseudo-race sciences often argued that mulattos were sterile, while, paradoxically, much of society feared the “one drop” of African blood staining its progeny. As people liked to view the construction of race to represent distinct “species” of man, the mule, an animal hybrid, was a natural analog for some.
I hope to do more work on the subject of mules in Southern fiction. Vernon, Florida has only reinvigorated my interest. Why did Southern authors use mules so often in their work? Was it because they were such a large part of Southern every-day life? Why do they frequent folklore? Why are they often tied to Florida? If you have any thoughts on mules I’d love to hear them. If you’ve encountered one (I have not) I am curious about your experience. For now I leave you with this image, and a simile:
Some said that President Truman was as stubborn as a mule.
**Love and credit for this post go to Ernie and Giovanna
I began this blog by writing about worms, but today I switch to a more terrifying insect, the ant! or a film about them at least.
Them! is the 1954 classic black and white horror film about ginormous mutated ants who begin killing people in the New Mexico desert.
I describe and recommend it today as a cold war film- a movie to be enjoyed and understood in the long complex context of the 20th century global battle for nuclear supremacy and control.
I knew that I would like this movie when Dr. Harold Medford (played by Edmund Gwenn aka the santa claus in the original Miracle on 34th Street) upon finding the giant colony with his daughter-scientist Pat and local police, looked off-camera into the distant desert range and said, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true- ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation and the beast shall reign over the earth’”
Writing out this quote eliminates some of the abiguity that it creates in the film. Does the doctor refer to the beast, the one and only devil/antichrist/etc or the beasts- the animals that already roam this planet? When certain species grow giant after exposure to man-made nuclear chemicals and radiation, our self-drawn conclusion of humans as the dominant most developed species is called into question.
This movie is truly scary! Dr. Medford’s presentation on the nature of ants– they are war-like, super strong, industrious, organized killers– is taken in with the understanding that these characteristics apply ten-fold to the twenty foot monsters burrowing underneath American soil. If you were scared watching The Hills Have Eyes, consider viewing this throw-back film where special effects are not the driving force of fear. These ant puppets hearken back to the (definitely frightening) robot puppets on stage at Chuck E. Cheese, but it is the movie’s set up, concept and the implied consequences of an army of giant vicious mutant ants that left me holding my breath, squirming in my seat, praying for the safety of the city of Los Angeles.
The discomforting last lines of the film are as follows:
Robert Graham: Pat, if these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?
Dr. Pat Medford: I don’t know.
Dr. Harold Medford: Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What will he eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.
Even with American victory at the end of the movie, the message of the piece is shaming, ominous and clear: humans, with their nuclear weapons, are messing with the natural order of life and death, disturbing so greatly the world’s ecosystem that all sort of choas is probable. By creating a means for global destruction, humans are setting themselves up for a destruction of the status quo- their sense of power and control based off of a constructed world order.
This song is not, as some of you might expect, an ode to Quentin Compson. I am not that obsessed with William Faulkner. Instead, it is a song that if I could I would share with one of my other favorite Quentins- Quentin Tarantino.
He is the creator of one of my all-time favorite movies, Pulp Fiction. There are too many wonderful things about this movie in particular… the rapid-fire mundane yet somehow hilarious dialogue embedded in all of the wonderful motorized scenes: “a royale with cheese” “I shot marvin!” “She’s dying on me man” “What does it feel like to kill a man?” “it was on the kangaroo!” “Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead” there are so many more but i stop myself…
another great feature of this move and all of QT’s films is the music. Some of the lesser-known greats from Pulp include: “Misirlou” by Dick Dale and his Del-Tones, “Son of A Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield, “Bullwinkle Part II” by the Centurians, “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry and “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill, to name a few. Check out samples of these and others on amazon.
So in this post I place a hidden gem of a song on the steps of the Tarantino Altar. I personally believe, that, the track “Bed of Roses,” by Elysian Field, must be in the next QT film, or at the very least could be. Take a listen and see if you agree.
I found this song in a 1oth Anniversary music sampler of the Oxford American (a literary magazine of Southern writing that I love- they put out an anual music issue) The moaning and twinkling of this song evoke a red convertible down a lonely highway, John Travolta’s greasy hair blowing in the wind. The refrain is delicious- a cheery topic that in spite of the angelic violins suggests a grimier rougher song-past.
For you these notes
Soar o’er Somerville
To LA lands
of pulp and death.
May you lay on your own
Bed o’ Roses!
Filed under: Books, Films | Tags: books, disaster, duras, french, hiroshima, plays
I just finished reading the screenplay Hiroshima mon amour. The French is quite pretty in its simplicity. With short clips of dialogue such as:
Lui: Tu n’as rien vu a Hiroshima. Rien.
Elle: J’ai tout vu. Tout… Ainsi l’hôpital je l’ai vu. J’en suis sure. L’hopital existe a Hiroshima. Comment aurais-je pu eviter de le voir?
Lui: Tu n’as pas vu d’hôpital a Hiroshima. Tu n’as rien vu a Hiroshima…
Elle: Je n’ai rien inventé.
Lui: Tu as tout inventé.
I haven not yet seen the movie, though I was shown the first three minutes or so in Jason Stevens’ Faulkner class. He wanted us to see the use of montage and disordered scenes, suggesting the large influence Faulkner had on Japanese authors and screenwriters. He argued that many Japanese people related Japan’s history to that of the rise and fall of the Old and New South. I do not know enough about Japanese history to write any more on this comparison. However, Faulkner’s celebrity in Japan is undeniable. In Houghton Library our class was able to look at the transcript and photos of one of Faulkner’s visit to a Japanese university. Indeed, his reception there was much warmer and more immediate than here in the states.
but the book. it ends: She says to him, “Hi-ro-shi-ma. C’est ton nom.” and he calls her “Ne-vers-en-Fran-ce.” What is the significance of these appellations? Does Duras suggest that for these two characters their identity is almost completely a result of where they are from? Are these locations, where they were both tremendously scarred, all that they amount to, boil down to, as people? “vers” can mean “towards” in French. Is there a play on words, un jeu de mots, going on here– the Japanese man saying “not towards France?” something like that? Maybe not. but Ne-vers is a great name for a city as the man says at least once in the script. And what a happy correspondence in English: nevers. multiple never. more than one never? what is the plural of an ultimatum like that? It somehow does not have the happy ring of “Never Never Land.”
The land of Never, where she (she who is never named in the film, but through the screen play we come to learn is called Riva) was trapped in a cave, shorn like a sheep with bloody fingers from their attempts to climb the walls. she is left in the cave because she has shamed her family, for sleeping with the German enemy.
Nevers. c’est superbe comme mot. je l’aime bien.
My next task, watch this movie in full. From the snippet I’ve seen it’s beautiful. I would love to know anyone’s thoughts on the screenplay or film if you’ve encountered them. I’d wanted to read it for a long time. Now I will never say that I never read it. voila– some nevers.