Monday, August 09, 2010

A Big Country

Two posts left to go on vacation coming and goings, and then I'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

In the meantime, here are a few news bullet-points from our recent goings-on:

1. I cry every time Dobby dies. Every. Time. I love JK Rowling more with each reading. We are more than halfway through Book 7--I have read all 7 volumes out loud to my nine year-old in the past 13 months. Whew. That's a lot of pages. It has been wonderful to see them all fresh again through his eyes.

2. One of week of swimming lessons down and one to go. It was hot last week, so the pool was a good fit. However, I spent TWO hours folding laundry on Saturday night because I had gotten so behind.

3. Yesterday was razzleberry pie day. This only happens once each year. I think it is better than Christmas.

4. This news story (and others like them) has me so angry that my head was exploding yesterday. I found TamathyC at church just so we could freak out together. (I linked that particular website because the author extensively links to other news stories.) The AP did a story Sunday about some protesters in Tennesse actually attempting to break up a Friday worship service at an existing mosque with the volume of their protest. I find the cherry-picking of the Constitution that these people are doing horrible, as well as the highly public Tea Party involvement in these demonstrations: WE can "peaceably" assemble, but YOU may not worship as you choose, at least in public; oh and we all carry guns, too. If there are LDS people involved in these protests, well, they of course have political rights like anyone else, but I genuinely hope they have studied the history of our own people before they decide that America isn't a place for any particular religion.

As to the post title.

When we came home from vacation, we stayed at a hotel in Idaho. Being on the tail-end of its time zone, western Idaho stays light until very late in the summer. My mother and I had the kids (Plantboy had to come home early). They had been fed and had a chance to swim and it was still only 8:00 and bright sunlight was streaming through the room.

In desperation we turned on the TV and found three choices: porn, $10 for a movie we'd already seen three times or the TMC movie that was just starting. We opted for the third choice. It was called "The Big Country," a western starring Gregory Peck. Yes, that's right--a WESTERN starring Gregory Peck. We thought the kids would make it about 30 minutes through, get bored and we'd all go to bed.

Two and a half hours later we turned out the lights.

I was ready to call it quits and then Burl Ives showed up at party to make a speech I couldn't tear my eyes from. Later I learned he won an Academy Award for the performance. I should say so.

But I will back up.

The movie is the story of a Yankee, Gregory Peck, who has fallen in love with a Texas rancher's daughter (Pat) who went to the east, probably for boarding school. James (GP) is a tough guy where he is from as some kind of naval captain, but he is really out of place in Pat's world. Within a few hours of getting off the stagecoach, he is drawn into the middle of a terrible feud between Pat's family and the Hennesseys, who also own a ranch.

The fued has been going on for some time, because neither ranch has easy water access on their land. Each depends on a third ranch, left to the last-living Maragon--a beautiful young woman named Julie who happens to be Pat's best friend. Her ranch is called "The Big Muddy," so named after the wide, slow river that runs through her property. Her family has, for generatios, arbitrated between the two parties by allowing both to have whatever water they want. But the Big Muddy isn't what it once was and Julie isn't sure she can continue maintaining the ranch. Pat's father wants to buy her out at a handsome price; the Hennesseys are hoping that their creepy oldest son will be able to woo Julie into marriage. (She is educated and classy, he is ignorant and filthy--THAT'S going to happen.)

Riveting conflicts abound. James, moderate and modern in his ideas, seeks from the very beginning to placate the Hennesseys and stay out of the feud. Pat's attitude toward her neighbors, "they are little better than dogs!" is overwhelming to James, as he is confronted with a side of the woman he thought he was coming west to marry. Pat's father is a tough and terrifying old fart who outwardly keeps up the trappings of a civilized and well-ordered home but is filled with prejudice, hatred and disgust for those who are different. His ranch foreman is played by Charlton Heston--a man who has loved Pat for a long time and so automatically hates James. The families hate each other in a rivalry that would give the Hatfields and McCoys a run for their money. As for the cherry on the top of all this tension, James begins to have feelings for Julie, seeing in her a kindred spirit whom the west was unable to turn into a savage.

This movie is epic in the way old movies are epic. Grand, tough, and sometimes overblown performances. Amazing panoramic shots and technicolor made-up ladies. Gorgeous costumes and settings. Stunts that are simultaneously more real and more silly because there is no special effects department to clean them up later. Stark settings without green screens. It is the kind of production that earns the title "film" instead of the default, "movie."

It was a weird sort of western and I loved it. The shootout at the end is more characterized by who walks away, than in who walks away victorious. Reason wins the day, not might. The only clear good guy is James himself, and James is good because he finds a way to champion everybody, to bring out the best in them. From the overly-stereotyped Hispanic ranch worker to Old Man Hennessey to Pat herself. A fact she discovers too late to save her engagement.

The kids were funny, and kept asking a hundred questions throughout. My favorite had to be the Youngling, however, bouncing on the bed in time to the soundtrack of James riding through the ranch, "I love this music!"As the evil posse/mob forms and the music darkens he said, "I no like this music." Padawn kept asking a hundred questions about The Big Muddy. The next day, when driving through Eastern Oregon, we passed a small, meandering river and he pointed out the window shouting, "It's the Big Muddy!"

There has been much commentary done on this rather out-of-character western, with a lot of mention made of Cold War symbolism throughout. Everyone keeps telling James not to get lost, because after all, it is a big country. It almost becomes a joke. But I think that is the point of the movie. We DO live in a big country. There is a place for everyone. In light of the recent protests against Muslims across the country, perhaps the message of this classic movie is more timely than ever. Our differences are real. Very real. It is useless to pretend they don't exist. However, it doesn't necessarily follow that we can't exist side-by-side, in a spirit of love and community.

What we need is a great mediator. Someone like James McKay. Like Julie Maragon. Where HAVE all the cowboys gone? Old Man Hennessy called such folks "real ladies and gentleman." How has reason and compromise and mutual conciliation been replaced with reaction, rigidity and loathing? What happened to civility? United we stand. Divided we fall.


mstanger said...

I posted this on Facebook, too, but it is so relevant to your post I thought it worth reposting. You'll notice at least one member of the church on the right side of the issue in this article:

tamathy said...

Hear! Hear! Couldn't agree more. I'm haunted by the quotes "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -Edward Burke and "At the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."-Martin Luther King Jr. They are well-known quotes and probably used by people protesting mosques who feel they are defending their country and all that is good.
I just keep worrying that, within the sphere of my limited influence, am I doing what I can to help stem the tide of fear and hate. Is not contributing to it enough? What can I do?
I appreciate your posts -about kids, family, Razzleberry pie and the bigger world we are all part of.

Loradona said...

There are some older movies that have fantastic metaphors. My favorite is High Noon with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, also a Western. It is wonderful and tense and full of all sorts of feeling I understand. I highly recommend it.
And I completely agree: The way people bend the constitution to fit their own bigoted perspective is both infuriating and mind-boggling. Live and let live. The world is complex enough without seeking out reasons to be angry and get fired up.
(Note: Word Verification is "Pardin," which I think fits the Western movie genre.)

emandtrev said...

Wow. What a post. I love how you drew that all together. Movies, patriotism, and politics are not what they used to be, which is a shame in a lot of cases.

I love your posts. I have to say also that Razzleberry pie sounds absolutely fantastic.

Jenny said...

When you write your life story and someone buys the rights to make a movie, we'll call it a "film."

Liz said...

Thanks for the review, I've seen the movie on my "suggested" list for Netflix before, but was wary, so I'll have to add it! If you're interested in more fun stories about ranching, I'd love you to check out my blog Thanks again for the great post.


Science Teacher Mommy said...

Mike--no doubt there are a lot of members on the correct (I refrain from using the word "right") side of the issue. In fact, during the same conversation TamathyC I had last Sunday, she told me about the current detention without reason of her Palestinian brother-in-law's brother. Her BIL happens to be LDS and called a couple of LDS attorney friends for help. Thanks for the link. I haven't been on FB in a few days.

Julia said...

I know I'm kind of late to the game, I'm catching up on all your posts since you sent me the link yesterday.

I just wanted to say that reading your blog makes me really remember how much I love you and value your friendship.

This post made me want to cry because I feel like so few people take the time to think this out and realize how necessary and wonderful our constitutional guarantees are.

I am the kind of person who is constantly both aware of and fighting a tendency toward a fear of differences, but on the other hand I LOVE our differences. Living in Houston for so many years taught me that diversity can be a truly wonderful thing, and that the melting pot produces miracles.