Category Archives: 3:10 to Yuma

True Grit

The Cohen Brothers’ 2010 adaptation of True Grit has got to be one of my three favorite Westerns, together with James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and, of course, Tombstone. Not only does it have a bona fide appaloosa horse in it (you can’t say that about either Appaloosa, starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris, or The Appaloosa, starring Marlon Brando!), it has all the wit and sparkle audiences have come to expect from a Cohen Brothers movie, and an all-star cast (and introducing Hailee Steinfeld with a spitfire performance as Mattie).

This fan poem, based on the 37th Psalm, is in the voice of Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger pursuing the outlaw who killed Mattie’s father into Oklahoma territory, as he tries to dissuade Mattie from following the unreliable Rooster Cogburn any further into danger, after they have shared the trail just long enough to start to warm up to each other. Unfortunately, this Psalm is a bit long-winded and repetitive, so it doesn’t exactly fit the laconic LaBoeuf, but really, who can compete with a script like this one?

Do not get stirred up by this villain’s success.
It is no use envying those who do wrong.
For in the end, they, too, will go to feed worms
and their crimes will wither like grass on their graves.
Trust in the ways of God and keep up your end.
Look after your poor family and have faith.
Take pleasure in the things childhood is meant for,
now is the time to steal a kiss – or a smile.
Trust in the law and the courts to get your man,
and sooner or later justice will prevail,
someday your father’s murderer will be hung.
Be sensible and leave this job to others.
Do not throw your life away seeking revenge,
chasing a man whose luck has yet to run out.
Let go of this stubborn vendetta – go home.
Do not abandon your next of kin like this.
For a fugitive cannot run far enough,
but your father raised you well – tend his estate.
Before you know it, luck will fail his killer.
You can hunt all you like – the trail is gone cold.
But it is for widows and children like you
to inherit in peace and prosper again.
The wicked will always cheat and kill and steal,
but all the while they grind their teeth out of fear.
The lawman pities the criminal and laughs,
for he can see which way the wind is blowing.
Though he draws his pistol and unsheathes his knife
and spurs his horse to outrun his desperate fate,
though he cuts down the poor, the trusting, the weak,
and would slaughter any who moved to stop him,
his reckless killings will be his undoing,
his horse will never carry him far enough.
Better the little you have, by your own rights,
than the wasteful takings of crime and revenge.
By the gibbet or by foul play, he’ll fall out,
and either way, you’ll have your cares back at home.
Give up the chase – let your mother embrace you,
for you are the only estate she has left.
There is no shame in surviving evil times
and moving on, to mind the next year’s harvest.
For an outlaw’s luck runs short no matter what,
his own kind may well kill him before he’s caught.
The gang he’s running with will rob him themselves,
for nothing comes free among killers and thieves.
Be glad you have a family to go back to
and rest assured there’s no safe place he can hide.
You have done all you could to uphold the law
with firmness and resolve, acting in good cheer.
Though the time has come to abandon the chase,
it does you credit, to have come so far.
I remember when I was a boy, and now,
in all my years I have never seen your like;
I know that you will prosper in all you do,
for being who you are – fair-minded, stalwart,
and in all things very brave. I shake your hand.
Turn aside from this futile search while you can,
look after your mother, and keep your chin up.
For the law may be slow to take its prisoners,
but it will not forsake your cause in the end.
A child like you lives under its protection,
while the likes of him are cut off, in the wild.
Your place is with the just – you will inherit
all the cares that were your father’s and grow strong.
You may be wise beyond your years already,
but real maturity means circumspection.
Your father taught you boldness and conviction –
his teachings have been your prop against despair.
A criminal always loathes an upright man,
goes looking for an excuse to bring him down.
But should he fall, the just is not forsaken,
his ways and his works stand tall when he is judged.
Hope for the best and try to keep your hands clean,
and you will soon be able to fill his shoes;
in due course, this criminal will meet his fate.
You have seen an arrogant, ruthless outlaw
taking root like a flourishing garden weed.
But already he is on the run, hunted,
as likely dead as anywhere else – long gone.
Watch over your next of kin, trust in the law,
and remember, you have a future to live.
The man you pursued this far will not last long,
his habits will lead him to an early end.
The restitution for your loss is given,
in the balance you and yours will have your day.
And by grace, if nothing else, you will be freed
of this unlikely burden for a daughter,
and you will take your place – your fears put to rest.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Corruption, Directing, Roll Credits

Ben Wade

I have to confess, over the course of the first few months of this creative writing exercise I’ve given myself (adapting the Book of Psalms to fan poetry), I’ve been really itching to give James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma a go.

This is one of my favorite movies, with two of my favorite actors going toe to toe, and I even found out the name of the handsome black horse Russell rides in this movie! That’s Ribbon. Ribbon’s my favorite, so far, out of all the horses Russell has ridden in the movies. (Although I do think it’s super cool that Rusty and George, who both turned heads in Gladiator, made starring appearances in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, too!)

Based on the 36th Psalm, this one is naturally in the voice of Ben Wade.

I hear the voice of crime speak to the wicked
as it speaks to me with the weight of my heart:
“There is no fear of God or holy justice
upon the world that stands before my eyes.”
The sparkle in the eyes of crime seduced me
by feeding off my sin – hatred is a fuel.
I learned the trade of mischief and deception,
and laid aside all other trades and virtues.
Getaways and murders can be planned a-bed,
but the leader of a gang must cut a stance,
only evil itself escapes his contempt.
I can be awed by the heavens – this kindness
is a kind of faithfulness to that night sky.
God’s justice lights like sunshine on bare mountains,
his judgment opens like a naked defile,
that man and beast escape by singular grace.
The farthest hawk pays tribute to this kindness,
and I but shelter in his soaring shadow.
I take my fill from the fare of providence,
and from wild streams and passing delights drink up.
For I will not spurn to take the best from life.
I can take pleasure in acts of kindness, too.
Draw down your mercy on those who know your law,
and save your justice for the gates of hell.
Let no man’s pride in this life overtake mine,
nor the hand of the wicked stay my hand.
There lie the murderers I led to this death.
They fell where they stood – they did not strike in time.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Poetry, Robin Hood

“From the inside out”

I’ve mentioned Elaine Scarry’s literary account of pain before, and I’d like to go into it further to talk about the violence in Cinderella Man. She sees pain and imagining as opposite poles on the spectrum of mental experience, one a passive, receptive and aversive state of consciousness, the other active, inventive and free to transform our lived experience into a realm of limitless possibility for supernatural consolations and rewards. In between these poles are the simple verb-object sensations, feelings cognizant of something, as almost all somatic states (she names “hatred for, seeing of, being hungry for”) are mental states that are necessarily referential, whereas pain is without a referent, and the imagination cannot be experienced independently of its referents, in the sense that we cannot imagine in vain for any referent (e.g., don’t think of a pink elephant). For this reason her account of pain is also an account of culture, because to her mind our pain is answered by our imagination, and out of imagining the flowering of culture gives rise to artifacts that mend and succor every cause of suffering. At the same time, the silencing power of pain as a state of consciousness inspires our use of weapons to govern allegiances and convictions with incontrovertible expressions of power, and she dwells at length on the significance of torture as an instrument of oppression that subjugates the victim’s conscience.

I admire her effort to give an account of violence that has depth and complexity, because she can readily show that pain is an especially slippery subject, one we are prone to oversimplify if not discount altogether, in part because it is so difficult to objectify. The topics I tried to capture in my poem about Dan Evans in 3:10 to Yuma are enumerated in a passage in which she reveals how many ways we have of silencing the pain of others in our own minds. (1) Pain is a negation, a feeling of “against” that defies the person experiencing it to have any other psychological characteristics or content, a feeling that the body is become alien to the self, that “other” is intruding onto the body and an “enemy” force has been internalized, violating the self’s integrity and making expression of pain a self-betrayal that admits the “enemy” within; by its very nature pain is deniable and to admit to pain is a corruption of the will to resist defeat. (2) Pain’s internal location creates an illusion of self-agency, implicating one’s own body in the cause of suffering; yet a healthy and whole body is not in pain, hence pain is by definition external in origin; the paradox is totalizing – to resist a force that is at once internal and external is futile, and the only recourse from pain is to deny it any expression. (3) Pain is obscenely humiliating, because it conflates the privacy of felt-experience with the utterly public experience of disability, handicap or punishment; hence the sufferer may be exposed but his suffering is not a shared experience felt by observers. (4) Pain destroys the sufferer’s capacity for language, first by monopolizing language in desperate complaint, then by overwhelming the psyche to the point that it is no longer verbally articulate. (5) Pain is blinding and empties consciousness of all else, so that what speech can be managed has no meaning for the sufferer. (6) Pain is totalizing, a distraction from both the self and the environment, a narrow felt-experience that invades the perceived environment and permeates the body until every object in the inhabited room and every part of the sentient body feels like an instrument of wounding; and finally. (7) Pain is unreal to others because it resists objectification, so that the undeniably real experience of the sufferer can readily be categorically denied by anyone else, doubling the aversiveness of hurt with the psychological aversiveness of negation and rejection, lack of acknowledgement and refusal to be recognized. This is especially true of chronic pain, for we are no sooner made aware of it than we urge the sufferer to seek distraction; here the instinctive recourse to imagination, and also the belief that pain is not objectively real, if the imagination can remove our attention from it at will (a passage in the TOFOG song Danielle belies this dogma that distraction is a cure-all, “Forgettin’s only temporary / In the middle of nothing / My eyes get weary I feel like crying”).

But the scope of her book is much broader than acute or chronic pain, drawing subtler examples of embodied cognizance from The Old Testament and Karl Marx, talking for instance about the sun striking Rebecca’s eyes in the field, or describing labor as a controlled discomfort that realizes the ambitions of the creative imagination by bringing artifacts into the world that serve our comfort and convenience. These less distressing sensations have the same privacy, the same existential subjectivity, interrupting the continuity of sentience with the body’s utterances. In another book, Resisting Representation, she remarks on how unusual depictions of repetitive work and its aversive qualities of boredom and physical strain are in art and literature, as though these parts of our lives were mindless and uneventful, never coming up in our stories about ourselves. We do, however, have ways of making sense of our more embodied moments. I like how Australian poet John Forbes describes them as “diaries of pure sensation,” those stranger parts of our lives that are not quite shareable.

“Flexed suddenly the muscles of the stomach
can make the joints in the back of your neck
go ‘crack’. This clears the room for you,
the way these diaries of pure sensation
balance your responses against how you think
you will respond, leaving a margin of wind
for you to turn into.” – excerpted from Rolling in Money

Scarry sees productive work as a liberating discomfort, where any pains taken are an investment with rich returns. Comically, she goes on for pages about how much more relief a pregnant woman would enjoy if a sympathetic man built her a chair, as opposed to perhaps distracting her from lower back pain with an expressive dance about his sympathetic pain. An object made by hand, like a lever, is expected to reciprocate disembodying relief from the problems of sentience in excess of the effort expended to create it, to exceed the power of work to distract from those problems, and to exceed the duration of this distraction in utility over time. This excess of reciprocation can be appropriated by someone other than the maker of the artifact, but this vulnerability to appropriation gives the maker another advantage – the power to exchange it for something else. On the other hand, the investment of labor in creation may fall short of these attainments if the artifact is a failure, or the fruits of one’s labor can be appropriated with minimal compensation for the work, if tools can be alienated from their users in the form of physical industrial capital.

This must seem like an odd approach to blogging about a boxing movie, but what struck me most about the movie the first time I saw Cinderella Man was the intensity of the violence, and the physical cost of desperate poverty on Jim’s family, in hunger, cold, sickness, separation, humiliation and constant fear. And in the boxing ring, winning meant beating his opponents “from the inside out,” getting inside their heads in a battle of wills that tested his imagination, his ability to confront his opponents with a vision of his own unlikely victory. I didn’t know his story, didn’t believe he could win, so that first time watching the movie was a harrowing experience. The boxing scenes are so cinematically executed, the acting in them so expressive, the camera work so dynamic, I felt the blows without any experience or sympathy for the sport. To be fighting so badly injured, so much of the pain invisible, makes suffering in silence a theme of the movie for me, particularly because of the theme song’s treatment of militated optimism as a toxic oppression in a time of economic despair. At the same time, Jim’s ability not to be destroyed inside by anger or pain is so central to his heroism, it seems to explain why his story has stayed with us as a uniquely inspirational family drama. It shows in a larger than life way how our modest victories over pain, even those that are only temporary distractions, are a special source of dignity in our lives. At their most flimsy, they are evidence of the unlimited powers of the imagination, and when more concrete, they show readily how our inventive imagination invades the real world through our works.

Returning to the poem by John Forbes,

“…the rise &
fall of your chest arches over the day-to-day
posture you impose / on appearing as you are
– that is, not really knowing you’re alive
until the air touches more than your idea of
its following you around. Instead you are
in the wake of the air, preceding your first
impressions: delicate & quick, but here left
out of things, like a law of karma that will
never improve you. Just as a dead calm will
never delay the Owl & the Pussycat in their
beautiful pea-green boat, so you will continue
breathing like a sail & the comic loot from
this effect piles up on the deck, lots of money &
plenty of honey, wrapped up in a five-pound note.”

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Cinderella Man, Poetry

Christian Bale

One of my favorite Maxims of Marcus Aurelius is, ‘when anything tempts you to be bitter,’ to say not, ‘this is a misfortune’ but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.’ I don’t like to remember my dreams, because I tend to have nightmares. Even if I dream my dogs are with me, it tends to be in a situation where I am uneasy about their safety. You would think it would be easier to avoid negativity in a daydream, but for me it’s a struggle. I keep looking for ways to have daydreams that don’t entail catastrophizing, but without crisis there’s no opportunity for heroics and impressing everyone, so maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe courage and melancholy go together, where if you tend to choose to take a stand against the odds, you often feel like the whole world is against you.

I started to collect Christian Bale movies last year, but stopped. I really admire his acting, but I found they were too dark for my tastes, I didn’t enjoy watching them. I discovered Christian in either Henry V or Empire of the Sun; not sure which I saw first, but Henry V is one of my all time favorites. Heroism might be overdone for the stage as a general rule, but never has it been more valiantly glorified or brutally undermined as a national enterprise. I rediscovered Christian in The New World, where he gives a quiet but soul-searching performance in one of the most sensitive, believable love stories I have ever seen. But of all his performances, the one I had the most interest in capturing in a poem was Rescue Dawn. It brings out a theme in his career, of going to extremes to encounter Fear in its archetypal form. I never finished the poem I wanted to write about this movie, but touched on some of the things that struck me about it in a shorter poem in hendecasyllabics:

To have survived the sleepless death of hunger,
unaccompanied but not alone inside,
to have endured the weakening conviction
that endurance is a thing to celebrate,
to have answered the night with the lowered voice
of someone who knows his words cannot be heard,
to have consoled a ghost so uselessly fear
filled me in the utterance and would not leave,
to have lived as an enemy to people
I could not have violated, concealing
my hunger from help at every turn, knowing
war as I never imagined it, total,
to have returned to grace and the fellowship
that surrounds a man without being noticed,
is to carry that hunger inside, alone,
anxious to remember unsharable things,
and yet be at ease with grim contingency.

The start of the narrative poem is worth sharing, since I don’t have the stamina to finish it. This is also in hendecasyllabics.

The language of captivity came easily,
for I was not at ease and this appeased the men,
the meek eyes on their guns, the supplicant raised hands,
these gestures of submission were instinctive, clear
and seemingly respected – they took me alive.
To come into their village raised my hopes – I smiled
at seated women, children and the elderly,
convinced that here among them I could count upon
the nature of a civilized society
to govern and soften my lot, as a human.
In truth I smiled to see them well and self-absorbed,
exotic and in their own way beautiful, proud.
The neatly woven integrity of their world
and the confident abundance of artifacts
as intricate, trim and colorful as shop goods,
proving their world was made and not hacked from wild things,
impressed me greatly. They scarcely looked up at me,
and those who paid attention kept their composure.
But I was not so gently minded, I was tied
spread-eagled on the ground and left to shit myself
despite my saying, whispering, as though the shame
conveyed by whispering could say, I had to go.
I raised my voice when I had voided, angrily
demanding their attention – but they were watching,
they had listened, their eyes said they had understood.
What had they understood? The comprehension there
was still obscure, their feelings for me were too strange,
for me, none of their intentions were foreshadowed.
I sank back into neutral rapport with a child
twirling a beetle over my head on a string,
my attitude passive, my nerves jangled by noise
from the desperate clockwork of wings, captivated.

When we left the village I confronted my death.
I did not face my execution grimacing
in anticipation. But the spray of gun shots
should have murdered me, the shock of transformation
from a prisoner to a dead man ripped through me
with wounding certainty and stole my body’s voice
to shout into my brain that I had been destroyed
just the same. I was enraged to have survived it,
yelled. The executioner who failed to kill me
so deliberately and with an understanding
stared back with his black glasses, fired by my ear.
The pain was deafening – I watched him shout until
the sound returned and stood still at attention, stunned.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Classic Crowe, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Poetry, Roll Credits

Testify

Right now, my favorite Crowe/Doyle song is Testify. That’s how I want to rhyme, the story unfolds naturally but it’s wonderfully catchy. I’ve been experimenting with narrative poetry for a few years now, and it’s opened my eyes to the importance of creating complex characters with charismatic voices and compelling stories. You want a fun story with a great climax, that doesn’t seem cheap or predictable. So many adventure stories are already taken. So instead of trying to come up with original stories, I tried telling the stories of my favorite movies, to study the craft of plot from example.

Testify should’ve been on the 3:10 to Yuma soundtrack, it’s not as black hearted as Ben Wade but it could almost be his theme song. This little piece of fan poetry about 3:10 to Yuma doesn’t have the lyrical qualities of ballad meter, but I’m proud of the way it illustrates Elaine Scarry’s scholarship on the experience of chronic pain, so I thought I’d share it. One take on originality is that it comes from close observation, rather than unique spin. That’s a skill I’m trying to develop by studying themes that stand out in my favorite movies.

The shin I’ve fitted to my knee
still digs against and into me
when it comes off, a phantom pain
I cannot shake but have to feign
an ignorance of perfectly,
or I admit my enemy.
The heat of it resides inside
my body like a furnace plied
by my own heart, but it is not
a part of me, no, I am shot
each time I feel it, so the trick
is not to murmur at the kick.
But the humiliating limp
betrays me. Hobbled like a wimp
I find slight empathy in stares,
its measure is restrained and wears
a mask of platitudes that shame
and dog me for having inflamed
a worthless sentiment. It breaks
my voice at times, and hidden aches
overwhelm me in privacy,
I have only complaints. I see
the world as wounding, for it
jostles my wound. The blinding split
between my conscious mind and flesh
that has done all its healing, fresh
in its complaints each day, denies
me clear reflection, vivid sight,
or perfect hearing. By what right
is this invisible? My wife
tires of belief in the knife
that still stands in the open wound.
She sees nothing there, as attuned
as she is to my feelings, doubt
is her experience of pain. Drought
she can see, poverty she feels.
Who can believe pain never heals?

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Music, Poetry