The Witch: A New-England Folktale

The Witch: A New-England Folktale (2015) is an entertaining, wonderfully atmospheric and historically accurate take on witch mythology in colonial New England. Plenty of films claim historic accuracy, but you rarely see it. Mel Gibson is notorious for his pseudo historical (but highly entertaining) historical fiction movies. The Witch, though a semi-low budget horror film, puts those to shame. Listen to what the director says about his attention to detail.

“I am positive it is the most accurate portrayal of this period in American history on screen. We went to such lengths to make it so,” writer-director Robert Eggers told the LA Times earlier this year. “Everything with the farmstead that we built, everything that you see on-screen is made from the correct building materials that would have been used at the time. Most often we used the traditional tools and techniques to create these objects. And the clothing is hand stitched based on extant clothing.”

Ok, except the nails, which are round and not square like they would have been in the seventeenth century.

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Red Robin Diner in Johnson City, NY

Saw this old diner at the corner of Main and Broad streets as I was driving through Johnson City, near Binghamton, New York. It was closed at the time. I don’t think it’s a Red Robin franchise, and no one has posted a review on Yelp since 2015. I love the classic design, and check out that old 7-Up sign! The neighborhood is severely depressed, but there is a cool comic book and game store nearby.

Spirit of the Alamo Lives On

In 1835, no one would have believed this small Catholic mission in southern Tejas, Mexico would play a pivotal role in the struggle for Texas independence. Yet from February 23 to March 6, 1836, around 200 Texans holed up in the Alamo Mission fought an army of 1,800 Mexicans under the command of General Santa Anna. Although the small Texas force was ultimately defeated, “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry for Texas independence. Today, the Alamo is one of the most visited destinations in the country. It is considered hallowed ground, and many visitors have returned with tales of spine tingling encounters with the unseen.

Originally known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero, a Spanish Franciscan priest named Antonio de Olivares established the Alamo in 1744. The missionaries abandoned it in 1793. Ten years later, the Spanish Army converted it into a fort. After Mexican independence, it was occupied by the Mexican Army until General Martin Perfecto de Cos surrendered it to the Texan Army in 1835. In early 1836, the Mexicans returned, and a small force led by Colonel James Bowie and William Travis, which included pioneer hero Davy Crockett, defended the fort for two weeks against General Santa Anna’s siege. All of the defenders were killed, and the Mexican Army tore down most of the walls surrounding the mission.

The defense of the Alamo became legendary, and today what is left of the original mission is maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Texas General Land Office as a “Shrine to Texas Liberty.” It is a National Historic Landmark and a major tourist destination in downtown San Antonio, attracting more than 4 million visitors every year. In 1939, the Texas Centennial Commission erected a marble and granite monument on the Alamo Plaza carved by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini called the Alamo Cenotaph, or “Spirit of Sacrifice.” Its inscription reads, Continue reading “Spirit of the Alamo Lives On”

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a clean, colorful, and vibrant movie about the disconnect between war and the home front, fantasy and reality, but trips up in the execution. Its much-praised frame rate of 120 frames per second (twice the previous record) isn’t really justified by the film’s simplistic plot, and in some ways it looked like a film school project. Its stereotypical portrayal of soldiers undermines what it gets right about the relationship between soldiers and civilians. Overall, it’s entertaining enough to watch but not something you’ll come back to again and again.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is based on a novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, a 58-year-old writer from North Carolina. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment about it in relation to the film. While I was watching the movie, however, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that this story wasn’t written by either a former soldier or someone who served in the Iraq War. “This is what a Hollywood screenwriter thinks soldiers sound like,” I thought as I listened to the dialogue. Turns out my suspicions were correct, which explains why the soldiers were so painfully stereotypical. A writer often falls back on stereotypes or popular tropes when not informed by personal experience.

The film’s portrayal of the disconnect between soldiers and civilians, however, is very insightful. It’s hard to describe the oddity of being involved in something like the military, especially if you have been deployed in a war zone. Everyone has an opinion about it, even though they have no direct knowledge or experience. Even comments from someone who supports the troops and the war effort can seem awkward and embarrassing, and this film captures that beautifully.

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Feasting at God’s Table

Father Divine, Conspicuous Consumption & Racial Harmony

father-divine-bible
George Baker, Jr., “Father Divine”

In American culture, health and prosperity has long been wedded to the consumption of food. At the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the ability to eat what one wanted and when that defined an American family’s assent into the growing middle class. It was no accident that there appeared in America during the 1920s a man who offered salvation through the act of eating. Father Divine, professing himself to be God incarnate, urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking. His message crossed racial lines because he appealed to shared traditions in American culture, traditions like conspicuous consumption, Charismatic Christianity, and the Protestant work ethic.

Father Divine’s movement was at its height during the Great Depression. At a time when scarcity affected millions, this eccentric preacher offered men and women a taste of the American dream―for the price of personal sacrifice and loyalty. He provided Americans across the country, both black and white, rich and poor, the perfect confluence of food, religion, and spectacle to distract them from the harsh realities of everyday life. He offered hope that racial unity and personal perfection could be achieved through the union of religion and the dinner table.

The Importance of Food in America

Americans have always given special significance to food and drink. When the first European colonists arrived in North America they encountered a land teeming with wildlife. At Plymouth Colony in 1621, a storm left the beach covered with piles of lobsters two feet high. “They were so plentiful and so easily gathered that they were considered fit only for the poor,” Waverley Root and Richard de Rochemont explained in Eating in America. The storm left pools of crabs all along the shores of Virginia. Commenting on the abundance of fish at Jamestown, Captain John Smith wrote, “we tooke more in owne hour than we could eate in a day.” The colonists wondered at the size of the salmon, strawberries, and lobsters in the New World, and the Pilgrims, finding the luxury of clams and mussels tempered by their abundance, fed them to hogs.[1]

With origins in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the act of breaking bread with friends and neighbors had long been ingrained in religious ritual. Therefore, it was a feast the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoags after their first arduous winter in New England, which eventually inspired the creation of a national holiday, Thanksgiving, centered around the consumption of large quantities of food. John Smith celebrated his first Christmas in the New World around the dinner table with the Powhatans and noted, “we were never more merry nor fed on more plenty of good oysters, fish, flesh, wild fowle and good bread, nor ever had better fires in England.”[2]

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Bloody Brunckow Cabin

A weathered ruin is all that remains of Arizona’s bloodiest location.

  • This adobe structure dates back to 1858.
  • As many as 22 deaths have been reported in or near the cabin.
  • Reports of “unquiet spirits” were reported as early as 1881.

Crumbling adobe walls sit on a hill overlooking the dry, meandering bed of a San Pedro River tributary. Ants and snakes burrow into the rocky soil, past the bleached bones of unfortunate prospectors and outlaws resting in shallow graves. At night, a cold chill descends on the desert floor of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Those who dare approach these ruins after sundown often report unsettling encounters with the unseen.

Located south of Charleston Road between Tombstone and Sierra Vista, Arizona, the remnant of this small adobe cabin is known as Brunckow Cabin and has been described as “the bloodiest cabin in Arizona history.” After reading the tragic history of the cabin (and the tortured souls rumored to haunt it), I had to see it for myself. Over the years erosion, vandalism, and neglect have taken their toll, and the historic site may not remain for much longer.

Finding it is not easy, and visitors are wise to use Google Earth and GPS coordinates (N31 38.31 W110 09.45 to be exact). What I found was a few decaying walls, but the remoteness of the place was not lost on me. It was easy to feel a chill up my spine as I went over in my mind the events alleged to have taken place there.

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Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Located at 310 Genesee Street in Utica, New York, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is an enjoyable art museum with several notable pieces, including a Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dalí, and Picasso. It also has a fine collection of 19th-Century American painting and sculpture, as well as an annex showcasing the 19th-Century home of James and Helen Williams, “Fountain Elms”. I’m not a fan of modern art, but it was nice to see some pieces by prominent artists at a smaller art museum. Similar institutions would charge visitors to see such “high profile” pieces, but the M.W.P. Arts Institute only takes donations to see its general collection.

A special exhibition of Steve McCurry’s photographs will be on display until December 31st. Steve McCurry is best known for his haunting photograph of a young Afghan Girl with piercing green eyes taken in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1984.

The World through His Lens: Steve McCurry Photographs is an exhibition of more than 60 large-scale photographs by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. It costs $10 general admission, or $5 for students, and is free to children under 12.

According to their website, “McCurry’s evocative images reveal collective human struggles and explore diverse societies across the boundaries of language and culture. Organized around universal themes of personal adornment, place, and ritual, exhibition will include unforgettable images from across six continents and spanning ancient traditions, international conflict, and vanishing cultures.”

This a unique opportunity to see his photographs up close, as the M.W.P. Arts Institute is the only venue for this exhibition.

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