Tag Archives: Corruption

Tombstone

The climactic scenes with lawmen riding at breakneck speed while firing on fleeing suspects over a family vendetta in Tombstone haven’t aged well, now that we can mostly agree that even the police don’t have the right to shoot a fleeing suspect in the back. But in my book, this Western is still a cinema classic, if only for Val Kilmer’s iconic performance as Wyatt Earp’s cardsharp friend Doc Holliday.

This poem, based on the 82nd Psalm, doesn’t have any of Val Kilmer’s magic in it. It’s just about the Earp brothers’ conflicted feelings about going into business as private security men at a saloon, in a mining town where law and order operate only at the discretion of the local outlaw gangs. In this scene, Wyatt’s brothers make their reluctant decision to resume the role of lawmen – a role they thought they’d left behind for good when they moved west to settle down together with their families.

The youngest of them stood before his brothers,
and under Wyatt’s stare he spoke his mind.
“How long can we subsist on infamy,
and smile at outlaws over decks of cards?
Women and their children live here, too.
We could stand between them and these gunmen,
we are all they need for safety’s sake.
They don’t know where to turn when we hang back,
their desperation blinds them now to hope.
Everything we’ve built here is a sham.
When I was younger, I looked up to you,
I thought you stood for something more than this.
But in the end, you’ll let them slit our throats,
for we’re as mortal as the ones they’ve killed.”
They mayor slapped his back and thanked the Earps,
for making good the writ of Tombstone’s laws.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Poetry, Roll Credits

Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven has been warmly received by critics as an epic that trades in positive masculinity and features a powerhouse performance from Eva Green as the princess Sibylla and an all-star cast of knights in shining armor. As with Gladiator, the soundtrack steals many a scene, this time scored by Harry Gregson-Williams.

The story asks the question whether personal integrity is an adequate stand against corrupt leadership in the realm of statecraft – whether upholding the rights of criminals is fair to those under their power. Although the film suggests that Balian is content to live with his choices to the end, the price paid by others whom the film allows us to care about is awfully high.

This poem, based on the 73rd Psalm, is in Balian’s voice addressed to Sybilla, after he has announced his decision not to usurp power from her cynical and foolhardy husband, Guy de Lusignan (played by Marton Csokas). Later, he will retrace his steps and confront Guy ineffectually about a tactical blunder – but his cinematically convenient decision to confront the king bluntly in front of his knights naturally dooms his advice to failure, as Guy must defend his own authority by dismissing Balian’s unsolicited advice wholesale. Balian (Orlando Bloom) comes off as a bit of a blunderer himself, in that regard. But at least his self-respect is intact…

Only the good is cherished by a true knight,
for what more is Christendom to the pilgrim?
Truly, for my part, I might have strayed,
for in this labyrinth, love gave me pause.
Do you doubt that I envy your husband,
when I see you secure in his palm?
Glibly the man fears nothing of the grave,
feeling only his fullness in power.
The cross has no place in his religion,
for the man abhors all self-denial.
Arrogance defines his every gesture,
disdainful of his duties under law.
Grease from his table smears his bloodshot eyes,
as he plies the mob by idolizing war.
Of binding oaths he speaks with arch derision,
and no one doubts that he will be a tyrant.
When he swears by the name of our Lord,
his rabble-rousing sweeps through crowds like wildfire.
Not because they credit him with faith, no –
and yet they drink his poison eagerly.
They suppose Christ does not see them sin,
and question how one God could know all hearts.
Do you think I am blind to their success?
Men who stint no evil gain in power.
For what reward do you think I keep my vows,
and by my labors do such penitence?
The Templars spit on me, and will do worse,
and all my doings here may be for nought.
Do you doubt I contemplated killing him?
The thought of my wife, and your son, held me back.
The act of apprehending how things stand
has been a wrenching sorrow in my heart.
Until, in contemplation on the mount,
I came to sense what heaven can withhold.
Truly, these warriors rule over an anthill,
a simple act can cast all to the winds.
Do you not marvel at how sudden death
can be, on the heels of great good fortune?
Ephemeral as incense, their illusions
dissipate like mist above the sea at daybreak.
When I resented keenly all I’d lost,
and fear of hypocrites transfixed my soul,
I stumbled like a brute led on God’s way,
comprehending none of what I saw.
Yet even then, love’s light burned from within,
the spirit of Jerusalem sustained me.
Your brother took me in his confidence,
and in defending you, I won acclaim.
Why else do you believe I take up arms,
who else do you imagine I desire?
Exact from me all that the world demands,
and still a knight and Christian, I endure.
I see what ends corrupted men are for,
how low they grovel, obdurate and damned.
For me, nearness to scripture is enough,
I pitch my tent where God wills and move on,
consoled by the fair sweat upon my brow.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Music, Poetry

Harry Power

The True History of the Kelly Gang presents Harry Power, memorably portrayed by Russell Crowe, as something of an enigma. Does he really need Ned’s help, or is he just tired of drinking alone? As Ned narrates over our last scene with Harry in the movie, one can hardly trust anything Harry says about himself. His most paradoxical moments are perhaps his only honest moves. This poem, in Harry’s voice addressed to young Ned, is based on the 71st Psalm.

That’s you, sunshine – my little helper.
Never let them trammel on my name.
Your apprenticeship frees me from loathing.
You’ll lend me your ear, spare me snow’s silence.
Here in the bushranger’s bullet-proof shed
we will always be safe and snug – alone.
Sold into servitude at my side,
your hand will steady mine, too, in time.
My boy, we’ll range far from the grip of the laws,
far from the scabrous constables’ reach.
For the vastness of bush is our only hope,
a man’s surety is his remoteness – you’ll see.
I was whelped in the rough with the unimpressed.
From my mother’s belly loathing brought me out.
The curses of lawmen are our highest praise,
and we rake out our infamy under their sun.
If you go, do not leave me alive, boy,
for aging has stripped me of pleasure in breathing.
These constables whisper about me already,
lose on my scent and with heads bent together –
they whisper that strength has forsaken me,
they’ll rush me alone, if you leave me here.
Boy, do not turn your head – face me!
Be my helper in this, if only this – quick!
By your nerve, my pursuers will be disgraced –
with their hangdog faces lowered, they’ll sulk,
these men who could not stop my kind and yours.
Look at me, and see how I hold out hope
of making a true immortal of you.
All I’ve written of us will lay the scene,
and the pale sun that rises and sets on their soil
will flush at your wrath like a startled bride.
I will harry the sleep of their judges for you,
in my skull I will carry your blazon alone.
Long has the bush been a succour to me,
long have I sung of the bushranger’s triumphs.
And grim though the vice of old age is to me,
for our kind, for our ways, you will not betray me.
When you ride, songs I’ve written will mark out your fame,
and the young ones will relish your infamy,
they will eat from your table, praise you to the skies,
for the fell deeds begun at a bushranger’s side –
now my boy, can you taste the flint of your name?
Now, with the blast of your wrath in my face,
you will carry the stamp of my life for your fate
and the bowels of the worms cannot hold me.
Your exploits will outnumber mine by far –
the curses you’ll raise are a sop to my pride.
Just so, I wrote verses with you at my knee.

Our true claim to glory is testimony.
You and I sang of showing those constables up,
and though both of us hang, still our words can cut.
My lips will peel back on a bone-chilling smile,
bought back from disuse at the price of a child.
My tongue will swell, black as the seed of a grave,
fat with the tales men will tell of your name.
Those lecherous constables fear us, my boy,
fruitlessly scouring, dog-kneed and vile.

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Filed under Corruption, Music, Poetry, The True History of the Kelly Gang