Re-posted from October 2017
Nowadays urban fantasy has gotten all highfalutin with a bunch of flavors of wolf creatures. There are werewolves and lycanthropes and loup garous and lycans and blutbaden and all other sub-categories of wolf metamorphosing humans. Back in the day there were just werewolves. And the most famous case was Larry Talbot.
Larry was a British ex-pat living in America. He left home after a disagreement with his father. His father was a titled Lord living on the family estate. But when Larry’s older brother died it was time for the prodigal son to return and take up his family responsibility as the heir apparent. As luck would have it, Larry’s arrival home coincided with the arrival of a troop of gypsies outside of the local village. And it was at the gypsy camp that Larry would begin his personal exploration of nocturnal non-domestic canine/human feeding habits. Larry is attacked by a werewolf who during the day is Bela the gypsy fortune teller (interestingly played by Bela Lugosi). Bela wounds Larry but is himself killed by Larry using a silver headed walking stick. The head of the stick is, of course, shaped like a wolf’s head. Larry is carried back to his home where he survives his wound which heals in the shape of a pentagram (the sign of the werewolf!). The killing of Bela becomes part of a police investigation and Larry is suspected but being a nobleman, he is not pestered by arrest or even having to appear before a magistrate. The police inspector is forced to come visit him at the manor and all deference to his status maintained. Meanwhile Larry is starting to feel funny and the next night he turns into a werewolf and goes on a killing spree. After this he is desperate to believe that he is only suffering from nightmares and delusions but the evidence starts mounting up against him. At one point during one of his nocturnal hunts, he is caught in a leg trap. And here he is saved by Bela’s mother. The old gypsy lady feels responsible for Larry’s plight and recites a spell over him that turns him back into a man and allows him to escape the trap. Finally, Larry reaches the end point of his despair when he knows that his next victim is the woman he loves. Luckily (sort of) his father manages to kill Larry with the same silver wolf headed walking stick that Larry used earlier for the same purpose. So, the story ends on this somber scene of father looking down at the son he has just killed. The gypsy woman recites her spell again and we’re supposed to realize that this was the merciful release and the best-case ending for poor Larry Talbot.
In terms of range of acting ability and style the Wolfman is probably the most varied of the Universal Classic Monster Movies. On the one hand we have Claude Rains playing Lord Talbot, Larry’s father. Rains is an excellent actor and also a very polished individual who easily can play a nobleman in a movie. He was also rather short and slight of build. Then there’s Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry. Chaney was an indifferent actor and a very large and tall man with a booming rough voice. He was more at home in a broad comedy such as the pictures he did at Universal with the comic duo Abbot and Costello. In fact, he reprised his role as the Wolfman in the monster spoof, “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” It might be assumed that he would be out of his depth trying to portray a nobleman’s son but he plays the part as a self-made man who grew up in America and reflects the manners and outlook of his adoptive land. He employs a working-class diction and style of speech and comes off as a personable individual with maybe a slightly hot temper. The relation between father and son seems to be cordial, warm and in the spirit of a mutual rapprochement after a youthful revolt against parental authority. Before the disaster occurs to Larry, the atmosphere is of a joyful family reunion. So, these two actors almost exact opposites in appearance, acting style and talent level manage to do a convincing job of portraying themselves as family.
The other important portrayal is the old gypsy woman played by Maria Ouspenskaya. Since her son Bela was a werewolf she understands Larry’s plight and realizes what his fate will be. And being a gypsy of course she has witch-like powers (and a really cool accent). When Larry needs to escape from his wolf form she could recite the following spell to revert him to human form.
“The way you walked was thorny, though no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.”
She is the coolest aspect of the movie and provides the atmosphere (along with the fog machine that must have been working overtime for this film) that allows you to think 20th Century England could be infested with werewolves and gypsies.
And finally, the other notable aspect of the movie is the tradition spawned of werewolves transforming during the full moon. Or did it? Actually, in this first Larry Talbot outing the full moon isn’t explicitly mentioned:
Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfs bane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.
Later they change the final line to “and the moon is full and bright.” So here we can see that autumn and wolfs bane is part of the equation. Maybe this restricts it to the Hunter’s or Harvest Moon.
So, do I like the Wolfman? Only parts. I like the beginning and I like the end. But the middle where Larry is fretting over whether he is going crazy isn’t all that good. So, I recommend seeing it at least once but it’s not my favorite for sure.
I ‘ve now had a chance to listen to High Top Mountain a good bit and I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite album by Sturgill Simpson. And that’s because it’s country music. He isn’t experimenting here with other genres and sounds. It’s straight up classic country with plenty of energy, fun lyrics and excellent steel guitar. For me the best songs are:
- Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean
- You Can Have the Crown
- Sitting Here Without You
- Time After All
But honestly, I think they’re all good. Now how rare is that? Most albums have three or four strong songs and the rest weak. This album has twelve songs and they range from excellent to good. They vary from ballads to up tempo rockabilly. I’m just disappointed that his later albums don’t appeal to me as much. Maybe these were all the country songs he wanted to make. Well if that’s so, then I’m glad he made this album and that I found it. I think it’s a keeper.
“Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
H. L. Mencken
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
“Rest, nature, books, music…such is my idea of happiness.”
Tolstoy must have been old when he wrote this. He’s leaving out a very important ingredient.
“When there aren’t any smart decisions, I suppose you just have to pick the stupid decision you like best.”
Orson Scott Card
Sounds about right.
“Individuals who have been wronged by unlawful racial discrimination should be made whole; but under our Constitution there can be no such thing as either a creditor or a debtor race. That concept is alien to the Constitution’s focus upon the individual. …To pursue the concept of racial entitlement – even for the most admirable and benign of purposes – is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”
We’re gonna miss Scalia. He was solid.
So, it’s Aristotle Week at Quote of the Day!
“In the many forms of government which have sprung up there has always been an acknowledgement of justice and proportionate equality, although mankind fail in attaining them, as indeed I have already explained. Democracy, for example, arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.”
And I thought this was a Marxist delusion.
I just finished reading Gregory Cochran’s and Henry Harpending’s 2010 book “The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.” In some senses this book seems to be a rebuttal of Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel, The Fates of Human Societies.” Diamond’s thesis was that geography was the basis for all the differences between the levels of human technological progress across the world. The underlying message of Diamond’s book is that all humans are exactly the same biologically. An Australian Aborigone and Albert Einstein are equally likely to discover general relativity as long as they were both living in Eurasia at the right time in the right place. In my review of Diamond’s book I stated that the results of geographic isolation clearly had great impact on the ability of neighboring peoples to benefit from the latest technological technology discoveries. But I also doubted that this provided any proof that there were no meaningful differences between different human population groups.
“The Ten Thousand Year Explosion” is the answer to Diamond’s assertion on equivalence of human populations. Cochran and Harpending provide a thesis on why human populations would differ and then a litany of examples of where they do. The book is a fascinating story of how modern humans expanded out of Africa at the end of the last Ice Age and interacted and replaced the archaic humans who preceded them in colonizing Eurasia. It is truly amazing that in a few short years Neanderthals and other archaic humans have gone from a few bones sitting in a museum display to creatures whose DNA can be compared gene by gene with our own. Cochran and Harpending examine the genetic evidence and put forth the case that hybridization of modern humans with Neanderthals in Europe is the most likely explanation for the explosion of genetic and cultural changes that occurred when these two human populations interacted. Their thesis is that the introduction of new alleles (genetic options) gave these humans added flexibility to adapt to their new environment and this led to selection for physical and mental characteristics that in turn gave rise to advances in agriculture, technology, culture and language.
Another message that Cochran and Harpending stress is that human evolution has not slowed even now. A final example to reinforce this idea is the case of the Ashkenazi Jews. Cochran and Harpending analyze the history of the Ashkenazi people and the genetic linkage between their higher average intelligence as a group and a number of genetic diseases that are linked to brain function. He points out that these changes occurred in a period of less than a thousand years and are the result of natural selection reinforced by reproductive isolation and selective advantage based on occupation.
The 10,000 Year Explosion is a fascinating book. You’ll learn that there literally was a tribe that gave rise to all the Indo-European speaking tribes (Celts and Greeks and Romans and Slavs and Germans and Aryans) and that this pastoral tribe went on to conquer and mix with people over half of Eurasia because they could digest lactose in milk. And they were epic poets in Ireland, Greece and India. The book is full of interesting facts and thought provoking ideas. And I think it will convince most people that Jared Diamond is only looking at half the story by neglecting the genetic and other physical evidence about human history that is now available to scientists. It turns out nature and nurture are inextricably linked and progress breeds change and vice versa. We continue to change and to deny this is silly and counterproductive.