Saturday, October 29, 2011


During the 1950s and 60s, there was a wave of epic Biblical movies (The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, the Robe, etc.), and in 1961, Richard Fleisher turned the story of Barabbas (the man who was freed from execution instead of Jesus) into a film, a film that has long appealed to my raw instinctual nature, and philosophical curiosities, in other words I love it!

The movie begins with a shot of Barabbas (played by Anthony Quinn) inside a dark prison complaining about his eyes – throughout the story he’s put in places where it’s hard for him to see, serving as a kind of symbolism for his struggle to see both physical and spiritual light. 

Later on, filled with doubt and questions pertaining to the whole Jesus issue Barabbas drowns his sorrows with wine.  (Was he really the messiah?  Why was I released instead of him?)  He drinks himself into a drunken rage, yelling for people to look at him.  He grabs an old withered man, and says, “Look at me!”  That man turns out to be blind.  Again with the sight thing.

Barabbas eventually returns to his old gang of bandits, the gang that originally got him in trouble.  They decide to rob a caravan that just had to be led by Roman soldiers, and of course they get caught.  Barabbas is brought before the authorities…

Roman General: The shock and fear of an unreasoning fanaticism will pass, but the appetite to destroy, which alas the human being shares with the wild beast is always with us, and it has rigorously to be disciplined in the name of civilization and according to the law.
Barabbas: That’s what you say, but I tell you whichever side of the law we’re on, we’re the same man.  You and your kind and me and my kind.

You tell him Barabbas!  Stick it to the man!

The authorities sentence Barabbas to the sulfur mines on the island of Sicily.  Once again Barabbas finds himself in a dark place.  He spends twenty years in the mines, outliving everyone else imprisoned there.  And then a major earthquake destroys the mine, and only Barabbas and the man chained to him survive.  He comes out of the mine with a rag over his eyes, because they’re sensitive to the light. 

His friend, a devout Christian, badgers him about believing in Christ to which he replies, “Why can’t God make himself plain?”  That very question has bothered me for quite some time.  I mean, if God is real, then why be so cryptic and mysterious all the time?  I don’t know, I don’t think I ever will.

The warden’s superstitious wife considers Barabbas and the other guy to be lucky charms, and insists that she and her husband take them to Rome.  And here the movie shifts gears.  They arrive in Rome, and the warden gives Barabbas and the other guy over to be gladiators, he kind of just does that because it’s expected of him, they don’t really explain why.  Barabbas enters into gladiator training and those sequences remind me a lot of the training sequences in Shaolin Master Killer (1978) or any Rocky movie.
Anthony Quinn as Barabbas
And of course the strongest of the gladiators – Torvald, played by Jack Palance, picks on old man Barabbas, and of course they’re destined for a showdown in the Coliseum.  But before that can happen, Barabbas’s friend gets in trouble for preaching Jesus, and Torvald puts him to death.  So Barabbas has to face off against this mighty gladiator who picked on him, who killed his friend, and is virtually unbeatable on a chariot.  Oh the drama!  When they finally meet in battle, Barabbas uses his old man wits to outsmart Torvald, and ultimately kills him. 

The Emperor grants him freedom, but Barabbas can’t help being himself and when radicals start setting fire to Rome in the name of God, Barabbas joins the pyromaniacs thinking that the kingdom of God is really coming.  He participates in an effort to atone for his past denials of Christ.  The Romans catch him, and this time he claims to be a Christian, and he’s thrown in jail, in a dark place once more.  Peter the apostle is there and chastises him.

Peter: This isn’t how the new kingdom will be made.
Barabbas: Why can’t God make himself plain?  What’s become of all the fine hopes, the trumpets, the angels, all the promises?  Every time I’ve seen it, I end up in the same way with torments, and dead bodies, with no good come of it… All for nothing.
Peter: Do you think they persecute us to destroy nothing?  Or for that matter do you think what has battered on your soul for twenty years has been nothing?  It wasn’t for nothing that Christ died, mankind isn’t nothing.  In his eyes each individual man is the whole world.
Barabbas: I was the opposite of everything he taught, wasn’t I?  Why’d he let himself be   killed instead of me?
Peter: Because being farthest from him, you were nearest.
Barabbas: I’m no nearer than I was before.
Peter: Nor any farther away… I can tell you this, there has been a wrestling in your spirit back and forth in your life, which in itself is knowledge of God, by the conflict you have known him.  I can tell you as well that so it will be with the coming of the kingdom, a wrestling back and forth a belaboring of the world’s spirit like a woman in child birth.

Afterward, the Romans crucify Barabbas, thus linking the end with the beginning…  This movie has it all for me – philosophical struggle, gladiator training sequences, intriguing dialogue, and one hell of a performance by Anthony Quinn.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Californian Excursion

I recently journeyed by car with my sister from Houston, Texas to San Clemente, California so that I could help her move.  After lugging around her furniture to and fro, I happened upon a hiking trail near her place.  I'm not much a camera guy, but I thought it would be fun to take some pictures, so I borrowed my sister's camera, and this is what happened…

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Paiute Poet

This is no Movie of Noble Savages
Adrian C. Louis

Born of trees
whose timeless atoms
carried on their savage
act of indolence
in annual assault of leaves
upon the earth
while their branches
felt up the sky
where the white man’s God lives,
this paper
holding these petroglyphs
is neither apology nor legacy
but a wanted poster.

Now, dauntless before Dante’s
nocturnal emissions
of visions of Hell
I curse God and weep
because some creeps crept
through the back window and carried
away my typewriter
while we were at the wake.
When I find them,
they will bleed broken English
from shattered mouths
and my fists
will sing songs of forgiveness,
unless of course
they’re my in-laws.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Anyone who has met me for more than seven minutes will usually hear some kind of reference to Native Americans (because I’m so intrigued by their tribal history, culture and lifestyle).  Well, a few years ago I was at church (one of the only times I’ve been to church in the last few years) joking around after the service saying that all politicians should smoke from the peace pipe during their political conventions, and then we wouldn’t have as much war.  Well, one of the church goers who was listening to me really liked what I was saying, and must have thought I was a hip groovy dude.  He asked me to hang out at his place some time.  And so a few weeks later, I agreed to come.  When we talked a few hours before the hang out, he asked, “Would it be cool if another one of my friends comes?  He’s got mushrooms.  Do you like mushrooms?”  I thought that was a weird side dish to ask about, but I just took it that the guy really liked mushrooms, so I said, “Okay, sure.  That sounds good.”  I got to his place.  He and his friend were there.  Right away his friend pulled out a bag of mushrooms and threw them on the table, and said, “Let’s do this.”  Immediately, I was thinking, “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…”  I don’t condemn or look down upon people for using drugs, but that’s just not my thing.  I don’t use socially acceptable recreational drugs like alcohol either.

After not saying anything for like a minute, I said, “Uhh…uhh… I’m sorry, I must have misunderstood you man.  I don’t mess around with this stuff.”  My church going pal was like, “But you said, you’d be down with mushrooms.”  I replied, “I didn’t realize you meant those kind of mushrooms.  I thought we were talking about mushrooms on a pizza.”  His friend said, “Well, fuck I can’t get high now.  [points to me] This guy doesn’t want to get high.”  I said, “I’m sorry man, I don’t know what to tell you.”  Eventually they conversed among one another and decided to eat their shrooms anyway.  I don’t know why I didn’t leave at that point, but I continued to stay and we watched a movie together.  Thankfully, nothing else crazy happened, and after the movie I left, and that was that.
I'm guessing I would have been seeing stuff like the above picture had I participated in the shroom eating.