Now Playing: Gone with the Wind (1939)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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1939’s “Gone with the Wind” has no equal. Running nearly four hours, it’s a sweeping romantic epic about the rise and fall of the American South in the American Civil War. It follows Scarlett O’Hara as she marries, complains, and cries her way through the entire war and well into its fallout. It is exactly the kind of film that everyone should see once and, if they are so cursed, see twice since this thing gets shown in history classes in the deep South.

I admit I was mixed about having to see this movie again. The one and only time I watched it was over the course of a week back in middle school. For me, “Gone with the Wind” always seemed like a celebration of all things that I found troublesome about my heritage. It romanticizes the gallantry and heroism of slave owners. It asks the audience to sympathize with the fallen opulence of plantation life built on the backs of others. It celebrates the old American South as a civilization that did not deserve its fate.

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Buckle up, y’all!

After seeing it again, I am not so sure my biases are accurate. “Gone with the Wind” is a difficult movie to fully understand because it rarely takes a stand for anything. It supports slavery if only through its omission of its evils and the presence of strong, noble characters like Mammy and Big Sam. At the same time, next to no one seems concerned about whether African Americans are freed or not (including the Southern gentleman who don’t want to see their way of life disappear).

Though it skirts around the issue of racism, “Gone with the Wind” takes classism straight on and rarely to the film’s benefit. Early on, a poor white man is kicked off the plantation, despite his talents, because he had the nerve to knock up a woman of higher birth. One of Rhett’s friends is a prostitute but she still wants to give money to the war effort. When she tries, her money is seen as no good until she finds the one person with the social pedigree and soul to accept her charity.

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This is the perfect capture of a woman who is about to revenge-marry someone’s relative before they go off to die in a war.

Beyond race and class, the first half the movie focuses on the South itself. Diane felt some of the text was uncomfortable to read and I have to agree. Not to get too political, but all of the text describing the Southern war effort as some grand adventure or quest seemed problematic. Words like ‘chivalry’, ‘gallantry’, and ‘gentleman’ were used quite liberally as well.

Growing up in the American South, I have a complicated view of the matter. I’ve never been one to fly a Confederate flag, but just as hard as my eyes roll when someone tries to play the Civil War off as being about states rights I have a similar concern with the North’s reasons for war too. Often they are portrayed as pure and about freeing the slaves, but that’s only a smart part of the overall picture.

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When the war is front and center, “Gone with the Wind” has some of its most impressive shots.

None of these nuances are in play here. “Gone with the Wind” uses the word ‘yankee’ as a slur more often than not. There are thankfully no long sylloquies about states rights, but the destruction and death depicted as a direct result of General Sherman’s march to the sea and burning of Atlanta does plenty to bring into question Northern atrocities. With the fantasized depiction of slavery too, “Gone with the Wind” is definitely a pro-South film even if it had been cleaned up for Hollywood and mass consumption. Rather than dwell on historical events or politics, the movie instead focuses on the love triangle of Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley as the whole world around them falls apart and then is rebuilt.

“Gone with the Wind” wouldn’t be much of a movie without the performance of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. Her resting bitch face is unparalleled and juxtaposing her against the pure Melanie (played by Olivia de Havilland, previously Maid Marian in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”) was genius. With the exception of Prissy (who I hate for other reasons), no one is more hateable than Scarlett. She’s the perfect villain for this plot though I imagine that was hardly the intent at the time.

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Ashley, your wife’s death is totally about me. Thanks for asking!

How is Scarlett the villain? She’s selfish until the very end. She loves Ashley and pines for him, but she marries his cousin in an attempt to make him jealous. After that, she moves in with Ashley’s wife Melanie to await Ashley’s return from the war. She marries a second time to a man who loves and is loved by her sister just for his money. When her second husband runs off with Ashley and others to a nearby shanty town where Scarlett was assaulted, she never once worries about her husband when he doesn’t return but a wounded Ashley does. Even as Melanie is on her deathbed, Scarlett makes Ashley’s grief and raw emotion about her more than anyone else.

The only sympathy I have for Scarlett is how Ashley leads her on throughout the film. Rather than be honest with her and tell her he will never love her, he consistently aims to protect the weaker sex from the pains of raw truth, thinking it more chivalrous and decorous. I am unsure if Scarlett was ever mature enough to hear Ashley’s honest opinion of her, but he could’ve at least tried.

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Ashley is the best big screen examples of, “I didn’t tell him/her off because I didn’t want to break their heart. Instead, I just wanted to string them along for decades.”

And as dull as Ashley was and as frustrating as her obsession with him could be, Scarlett’s love for him helped me appreciate the movie once I found an interpretation of it that made sense. In the first half, we see the glory of the South as it burns down to the ground as a direct result of Southern hubris and pride. Early on, we overhear the menfolk talking about how they will win the war in a month with their gentleman ways alone. Scarlett constantly ignores talk of the war and never gets very involved, so I pondered throughout the film if she was above nostalgia.

To me, Scarlett’s love for Ashley, taking us from the very beginning of the film to the very end, is that very same nostalgia. She longs for the dream of Ashley, a man who we are repeatedly reminded is chivalrous, honorable, and above all else a gentleman. Even as she marries Rhett, the only other person to know how deep and how long she has loved Ashley, the dream of her white knight sours what Scarlett and Rhett have together.

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If Star Wars had been filmed 40 years sooner, Han Solo would be played by Clark Gable. This is two movies on this list where he’s been an honorable scoundrel.

We see early on the price of pride as their entire world burns to the ground. We see the hundreds of men lying dead in the streets and fields or returning home clearly broken and mangled. When Scarlett realizes she had fallen in love with a dream that would never exist again, she realizes what she had in Rhett and rushes back to their home. As she admits to Rhett her foolishness, he admits his own in thinking this could ever work and begins to walk out on her for good. When she asks him what she should do in the wake of her dream ending, Rhett responds with a line that everyone knows whether they’ve seen the movie or not: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” In an instant, that line lands with all the violence and destruction of the burning of Atlanta itself.

That line alone was worth sitting through almost four hours to get there. I had forgotten its power, especially as pop culture has stripped away its context. In a single blow, Rhett lands a punch that Scarlett deserved during the entire movie. He reveals that he is the hero and that, survive or die, the Old South is behind us just as Scarlett is behind him. He leaves as Scarlett is left clinging to all that is left: the land she grew up on.

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Rhett is the hero and I love him, but maybe the “I’ll choke you to death, bitch” and implied rape scene could’ve been dropped.

Overall, Diane and I both enjoyed watching the movie. Despite its many problems, “Gone with the Wind” remains a whirlwind of emotion, technicolor, and great performances. Of what we’ve watched thus far, it is both the hardest to watch fairly from modern eyes and the hardest to see without so much baggage attached from having grown up in the South. I doubt either of us ever revisit it again but I do suggest everyone see it at least once. If only the winners write the history books, then “Gone with the Wind” stands alone as historical fiction written by the losers. It’s a fantastic place to see at least one, but thankfully is just a fantasy.

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Fuck you, Scarlett!

 

Now Playing: Dark Victory (1939)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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This week’s movie comes all the way to us from 1939. “Dark Victory” is a film you likely have never heard of though you may recognize some names from its cast: Bette Davis, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan. It may have even won a few Academy Awards if it didn’t have to compete with “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” (both of which will be in this series).

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Ann, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald on the left. Judith, played by Bette Davis, on the right.

“Dark Victory” stars Bette Davis as a young, affluent woman who is carefree and never careful. She drinks, she parties, she smokes, etc. She suffers terrible headaches for months and soon begins to lose her vision. Her dwindling health is only discovered by the family doctor after an accident on her favorite horse and a tumble down the stairs afterward denying her unhealth.

The movie is pure drama with some romance thrown in. We had no idea what to expect, but this is a film that tries to make you cry. It almost succeeded too based on the excellent performances. Everyone here brings their A game, especially Bette Davis, whose character is full of life up until the point where she has to face her own premature death.

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I liked George Brent in this role though I wish he had a real mustache.

The cast surrounding her is also excellent. George Brent plays her surgeon and love interest. His character Dr. Steele is caring, though he tries to hide the results of her surgery from Bette Davis’s Judith and her best friend, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ann. Ann soon finds out anyway, which plays out in several heart wrenching scenes of the frowning Ann listening to her best friend Judith go on about how she will live her life again without worry.

Geraldine Fitzgerald is easily the weakest of the cast. She has a way of overacting that forces her to dab anytime something truly dramatic happens and she needs to cover her face. That’s not to say she actively hurts the movie though.

Humphrey Bogart also makes an appearance, though in a very limited role. He plays a stable hand and trainer for Judith’s horses. He doesn’t do much, but he is hard to miss. He has a calm, coolness on display in all of his scenes.

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Ronald Reagan’s hair never moved an inch.

This was also our first time having any real exposure to Ronald Reagan as an actor. He plays a young booze hound who is caught drinking in nearly every scene he is in. With today’s current political climate, it is less entertaining seeing a president in such a state, but I was pleased by how much charisma he had in so few scenes. In particular, we both loved the scene where, paraphrasing, he excuses himself from a private moment between Judith and Dr. Steele by saying he is going to cook eggs and bacon and then admits he only said that as a means to politely excuse himself. Not exactly a sly character!

If I have any real complaint about the movie, then it is its length. I don’t recall the specific run time, but given that its a drama about a woman who knows she will soon die, she takes an awfully long time to do it. I felt like the middle and latter parts of the movie drag. While there weren’t any specific scenes I’d remove, I would’ve edited the ending to occur sooner and feel less dragged out.

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I also feel like Humphrey Bogart’s character professing his love for and kissing Judith was 100% unneeded.

Diane had less complaints than me. If anything, she thought the movie’s length was beneficial as it helped show the character growth for Bette Davis’s character. I agree and it is likely more a personal dislike for straight dramas that has me wishing I hadn’t spent so long with this one.

Overall, “Dark Victory” holds up though I doubt I’d ever revisit it. If anything, it is a wonderful trivia question answer if you were to ever wonder when so much star power was gathered in one place. It’s also a great introduction to a set of stars we will likely see more of in the future of this project. I know Humphrey will be back very soon.

Persona 5, I Yield

I am dropping Persona 5. Before some of you burn me at the stake for my sin, do know that I really have no issues with the game itself. “It’s not you, it’s me” is cliche but accurate in this case. As much as I wanted to love Persona 5, the more I tried to play it, the less I did, and the less I played the more I realized this was not a JRPG for me.

In general, it is hard for me to enjoy any JRPG that is not strictly fantasy. The only exceptions would be various entries in the Final Fantasy series, but those at least had “Fantasy” in the title. It didn’t dawn on me until I went to write this that I have not completed any JRPG that had a modern or science fiction setting. I dropped Xenosaga about three hours in, though I always attributed that to having sat through about two and a half hours of cut scenes before getting to the half hour of gameplay. I tried a Star Ocean game once and managed to get really far, but when I realized I had gone too far in the game’s final dungeon and was going to need to grind to get anywhere, I dropped it too. Xenoblade? Hated.

That’s a shame too because I would’ve loved to watch Persona 5 as an anime. The setting and characters didn’t grip me as a game, but this is exactly the kind of show I’d enjoy. It’s bizarre to me that I have such a cognitive disconnect. Maybe it is a time commitment thing? It’s one thing to spend my time and attention on a full season of an anime, and another thing entirely to experience the same story in game form of a much longer period requiring much more involvement.

Further annoying me, Persona 5 was fun, at least when I felt like I could play it. The game takes its time introducing things, which I enjoyed, but it never stops introducing things, which I hated. I even enjoyed all the atypical bits, like training your character’s skills or building character relationships. I am not sure I enjoyed both together though.

The combat I did like. I loved the weakness system and wish I had more time in my 15 hours or so having played the game. I also enjoyed recruiting monsters, though the whole system was a little weird and likely needed more time for me to really get the hang of it.

Other things I loved: presentation and humor. Persona 5 is a gorgeous game graphically, but, more importantly, it is a gorgeously designed game. Even the font has a sense of style and bravado. I loved every single random encounter because once I was done, my characters walked away triumphant rather than standing in place doing a dumb dance until I hit the button. I also laughed a lot at this game. It is hands down one of the funniest games I have played in recent memory and I enjoyed its insanity all the more because the character’s recognized how crazy things are too.

I could easily see myself regretting this decision and trying again another time. I don’t plan on deleting my save at least. Persona 5 has a lot to love, and I wanted to love it, but when something doesn’t hook me I rarely find much success in forcing myself forward. Worse, with so much choice and so many awesome games out there, I hate the feeling of wasting my time as I force myself uphill in a battle I know I will ultimately lose. Persona 5 is probably the great game that so many have recognized it as being, but we aren’t sympatico, at least not yet.

Now Playing: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


It was about time for a movie Diane and I both enjoyed. I give you “The Adventures of Robin Hood” from 1938:

Our first movie in color, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is easily the most modern movie we’ve yet seen for this project. To me, it felt like a prototype to your typical Marvel movie seen today. It’s no wonder that of all the movies we’ve seen, this is our favorite even if it isn’t particularly deep.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” follows the legend of Robin Hood as you might know it from more recent movies like Mel Brooks’s “Men in Tights” or any other adaptation of the classic story. This isn’t a stuffy, dated, or hyper realistic take though. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” excellently blends action, adventure, humor, and a dash of romance. It also has a couple of villains that you want to see lose and a charismatic lead you want to see win. You know, like every Marvel movie you’ve seen and loved in the last decade.

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I swear, this is not a comedy or the Mel Brooks’s version!

For the first half of the film or so, I was worried that “Men in Tights” had followed “The Adventures of Robin Hood” story beats too closely. I’ve seen that classic a dozen times. Even though they are similar in structure, the existence of a parody in no way makes “The Adventures of Robin Hood” a worse film. Even having a story I’ve seen so many times done in so many ways, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” quickly found its footing and there is no mistaking this as the quintessential Robin Hood movie.

Diane’s big standout was the choreography. I have to agree. While it was a little off-putting to hear plastic swords clinking and clanking with as much impact as opening a tub of whip cream, the fighters were all lovely. I especially enjoyed the climatic battle between Robin Hood and Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Other than that, there were a lot of great outside shots and scenes that still hold up as well.

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This is an objectively cool shot, regardless of any other factors.

Though I’ve heard his name, I have never seen Errol Flynn in action before. Let me say this: the man is charming. If ever there was a dashing rogue, he is it. This detracted a bit for me since every fight scene, as excellent as they were, felt like swashbuckling and not a true medieval fight, which was intentional I am sure. Still, despite the inaccuracy, I was wholly entertained.

All of the side characters were a treat. The fight on the bridge with Little John was great. Best of all for me, I loved the recruiting of Friar Tuck, played by the actor Eugene Pallette. Diane found it difficult to understand him, as he sounded like a bullfrog with a horrible smoking habit. The actor later died of throat cancer, so that’s probably more fact than joke.

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Let there be colors so we can all look so fabulous!

Finally, we both loved the color in this movie. Diane read that they had to borrow every technicolor camera whenever shooting the movie to get all of their scenes. The costume department made it count too. Every character, whether they have a name or not, is decked from head to toe in colorful medieval attire. It reminded me of playing games like Ultima Online that allow for players to freely dye their character’s clothes any color they want.

I would re-watch “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and I recommend it to anyone, regardless of their familiarity with the subject. This is a movie for all ages and all people. While it is not a particularly deep film, it never fails to be fun. I’d personally give a nod to “Cimarron” still for myself since it was so different but “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is a better-rounded movie by far.

Bonus Screenshots

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What an entrance!

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I get that in most stories everyone, including Robin, knows it is a trap, but this is by far the laziest disguise ever. “They won’t know me if I choose to wear a color other than green and leave my hat behind!”

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Lens technology at the time is weird to see today.  The focus on this shot is all over the place. Friar Tuck looks photoshopped in.

Now Playing: The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


This week, we have something of a double-feature since Diane and I were a week behind. First up: 1937’s “The Life of Emile Zola”.

Emile Zola was a famous French writer in the late 1800’s. I had no prior knowledge of him before seeing this movie, but he is the origin of a line you may have heard before in political discourse, “J’accuse!” This phrase was the headline Zola used in a newspaper article about the falsely accused army officer, Alfred Dreyfus.

“The Life of Emile Zola” was not the worst movie I’ve seen on this list, but it was one of the more boring. I had no expectations going in and the first quarter or so of the film seemed to be setting up a biopic for an interesting historical figure. It soon fell flat though as the movie quickly glossed over much of Zola’s life to skip past his early social justice days to his fat and lazy socialite days. After his best friend Paul (the best character in the entire movie) leaves him, the movie jumps over to the at first completely unrelated, Alfred Dreyfus.

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Dreyfus. The actor won an award for his supporting role. I didn’t much notice.

Dreyfus is a Jewish army captain who gets falsely accused of treason. The entire military complex of France at the time is out to get him, and news of his crimes quickly become the talk of Paris. Zola first hears of this news while out shopping for lobsters and we get an “excellent” scene about how he finds the freshest ones.

There were bits and pieces of this film that were good, but it seemed like it wanted to both be a biopic and a court procedural without doing either any justice (pardon the pun). I might’ve been more interested in the Dreyfus bits, especially with the obvious corruption the court proceedings showed, but since the first quarter of the movie had been spent on developing Zola’s character, I didn’t care about Dreyfus or his plot. Similarly, with so much of the movie about Dreyfus, Zola became a reoccurring reaction shot in the courtroom and little more.

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The movie needed more Paul. I liked Paul.

At the time, this movie was heralded as a great biopic. I feel like prior movies have done it better. The first frame of the movie even states that it has changed names, locations, and events thus making it “fictitious” (the movie’s word)! All the same, I can’t wait to get out of this era. Every other movie is a rapid series of cliff notes about some great man I have never heard of and know nothing about.

There are probably better ways to learn about the life of Emile Zola or Alfred Dreyfus. I learned more from Wikipedia, for instance. Try that instead.

Now Playing: The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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“The Great Ziegfeld” is yet another long-winded biopic and musical from the ‘30s. In it, we follow the many rises and falls of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr, a Broadway producer best known for the Ziegfeld Follies: elaborately choreographed and staged Broadway products that had elements of Vaudeville. But this is not a modern-style biopic that seeks to teach you about the life of someone you may or may not know. “The Great Ziegfeld” is more a celebration in which you will learn nothing but you will be entertained.

Though a biopic, “The Great Ziegfeld” does little to humanize its subject. Rather than being portrayed as a flawed human, Ziegfeld is shown as an impossible charmer and dreamer. Modern films tend to gloss over the worst of a person to celebrate their best, but anytime “The Great Ziegfeld” comes close to a human moment (with one or two exceptions), time skips ahead or cuts away to one of Ziegfeld’s productions. Outside of his inability to save any money he earns or his chronic indebtedness, this film did nothing to explain Ziegfeld the man.

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My favorite character was Frank Morgan as Billings. He and Ziegfeld had a delightful rivalry throughout the film. His scenes were often the ones that got the most laughs from me.

And that’s a shame. For all intents and purposes, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr was an interesting person. The rights to this movie were sold by his wife to help pay his debts, and it was released only four years after he passed away at age 65. While my research hasn’t painted Ziegfeld as a particularly terrible person, he did seem to be a constant philanderer with the women he hired, and though the movie alludes to his indiscretions, it ultimately turns a blind eye by looking away every time.

One of my favorite things about several of the movies we’ve watched thus far is their willingness to cover large spans of time. “The Great Ziegfeld” is no exception. However, I do wish this were a modern movie, if only so I could learn more of the history of his life and career. Since the film spans nearly 30 years of his life, it comes off as the cliff notes version. Even the shows he helped produced are under explained despite their elaborate portrayal.

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Imagine something like this shot in HD and color. ALL THE SPARKLES!

If anything does hold up for this movie, then its lavish portrayal of the Ziegfeld Follies that defined so much of the man’s career. According to Wikipedia, the movie’s budget was $2.183 million (with a $4.5 million plus box office) and it shows. From the film’s opening to all of its stage productions, “The Great Ziegfeld” remains a great spectacle. The “Wedding Cake” sequence in particular is phenomenal, over the top, and absolutely insane by any time’s standards. If you have never seen it, then you absolutely must whether you like this kind of thing or not.


There were a couple of instances of blackface which obviously do not hold up. The longer of the two featured an actor performing a song called “If You Knew Susie”. The scene stood out to Diane and I not because of the blackface itself but because we couldn’t figure out why it was used. There was nothing racist or racial about the performance or the actor’s dancing. We were both laughing in how silly and pointless it felt.

Beyond its glossing over the facts or its elaborate productions, “The Great Ziegfeld” suffers from its length. Neither Diane nor I ever felt bored because of the visuals, humor, or acting, but this movie could’ve been half as long and still be twice as fun. At 177 minutes, complete with an intermission, it is just too much movie to say so little, especially when some of its key players were the actual performers involved in the real Ziegfeld’s productions.

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William Powell did okay as the charming Ziegfeld, but he didn’t have a lot of material to work with.

“The Great Ziegfeld” is an enigma. We both enjoyed it, though I’d hesitate to put it at the top of the list for its many flaws. Still, I’d hate to tell anyone not to watch it, as the movie is both entertaining and funny. Also, despite its length, it left me wanting so much more. I’d love to see a remake of this movie with a more true-to-life story and depiction of the subject while replicating its spectacular recreations of what were likely some of the most beautiful, coordinated, and weirdest things ever set on a stage.

Backstory Time #DND

Last week, I talked about the one-shot character Roldoon and I teased a story about Calibos, a Bugbear Monk. Calibos was a cali-bust (fun, but too many folks at the table to do anything important, though I did fly over the boss and whip him from the skies before helicoptering down via my twirling whips when the Bard’s concentration broke).

Instead, I thought I’d share a backstory I wrote a while back for a character concept I hope to use one day.

His name is Asariel and he is an Aasamir Warlock (The Celestial)/Sorcerer (Favorited Soul):


On my thirteenth birthday, my origins were revealed to me, though I had suspected them long before knowing, by a journeymen priest who let the words slip after too much wine. He said my mother was a virgin priestess and that the truth of both my conception and inception were a miracle.

I had suspected this because, from a very early age, I had a gift for healing. Simply by touch and eventually by sound once I was taught the words, a warmth from within me would spring forth toward the sick or infirm and soothe their pains. In time, even as a young boy, I was called to the bedside of the most stricken before some of the more trained and more experienced clerics.

Even before I knew the truth of my heritage, I noticed the priests, clerics, and acolytes treating me reverently. Other orphans were treated differently. I may have looked similar and had some similar duties to them, but I never belonged with that lot. They were more like servants of priests where as I was born to be a servant to the gods.

For the first thirteen years, the temple was my only home and my only refuge. The Brothers and Sisters who ran it were my mothers, fathers, and cousins. They clothed me and taught me all they knew. Despite their attempts at challenging me with their lessons, never were they too difficult to overcome. My fate was etched at my conception. I was like a fish and their baptism a pool of water for me to swim in.

As I grew out of boyhood, the Temple District itself became my playground. I loved to listen to the acolytes and observe the rituals of the city’s many religions. I learned everything there was to know about every kind of “man of the cloth.” I learned to bark and curse and cajole. I learned to beg and speak in tongues. I helped elicit donations for the poor, the sick, and the orphaned. I single-handedly, simply by my passion and my spirit, raised enough money to roof a leaky infirmary.

My reputation grew quickly, despite my age. People adored me for my abilities and my dedication. They respected my faith.

Not long after turning fifteen, my world moved beyond the Temple District to the rest of the city. In a chance encounter, I made friends with another boy, only slightly older than me, but far more aware of matters at court or within the city or even beyond its walls. He was a princeling, furthest from the throne, accompanying an older brother whose newborn son had fallen ill and needed tending. The brother came for me directly on my reputation alone, but it was the princeling who asked me to banquet after healing his nephew.

The banquet was lavish and ornate. Despite my natural beauty, my priestly robes were nothing compared to clothing of the court. I looked more a servant than an honored guest, but the princeling and I took to one another like kindling and spark. Soon, we were running all over the city on what he called ‘quests’ in favor of more romantic notions of knighthood. Truthfully, he had never met someone as provincial as me and he wanted to show me everything I had missed.

He taught me how to drink spirits stronger and viler than the watered wines of the Temple. He draped me in clothes more fitting my status as his friend and companion. He had me taste foods from places, cooked by people, I had never known to exist. He even procured for me my first woman, whom we shared and worshipped like the idol that she was.

You could describe the first fifteen or so years of my life as being dedicated to the elevation of my soul, but the year I spent with the princeling was equal in passion and entirely dedicated to the revelation of my body.

In time, he admitted his intimate love for me. We quieted away to the shadows to protect our reputations, but I soon moved onto prettier things. I cannot recall his name, but the lesson he helped me learn has not been forgotten.

He taught me to embrace life and myself. He revealed to me a larger world. A world that needed me as much as the Temple District still did. A world that wanted me and that I wanted in turn.

This revelation led me away from the only home I had ever known in pursuit of something more. Finally embracing my internal and external beauty, I took to the road to share my love. I never called upon one god, but I was happy to provide a blessing to all.

All the while, I chased temple virgins and dockside whores. I ate better than dukes and sometimes their kings. I reveled in adulation and adultery.

I was a saint, a miracle worker, and the greatest lover most women (and a few other men) ever had. I commanded crowds.

I was loved. Respected. Happy.

Then everyone who I knew loved me left me. My beauty began to leave me. My glory wilted and my passion subsided. The love, the respect, and the happiness that I had rightfully earned was gone.

And why, dare you ask, did such a creature as me fall so far from grace? Was it a grave mistake? Poor judgement? Did I sleep with the wrong man’s wife? Pride?

One night, in a drunken stupor, a voice called to me. It called to me with a warmth and familiarity I had never felt before. The voice named itself my Father and offered what it called a fitting opportunity. Accept my challenge and be eternally loved. Do you agree?

I would say only the gods know why I answered the way I did, but that statement is more truth than a cliche uttered by faithful man in desperate need.

I muttered through wine-coated lips, “Yes” and the voice replied, Heal the world. Do good works. Do it earnestly and without expectation and be revered. Do it dishonestly or for reward and be forgotten.

I awoke the next morning, not yet knowing the calamity to which I had agreed. My purse was empty from the previous night’s revelry dedicated to a local god whose name I never bothered to learn. Hungry, I sauntered to a busy intersection and began my song and dance like so many times before. I made promises. I proclaimed great truths. I offered salvation in the name of beautiful goddesses whose likenesses I used to whet the appetites of passing men, heavy with coin but lacking direction.

Then, a puddle of water in the street caught my eye. My reflection, normally golden and bright, looked white and aging. Fear overcame me until the voice’s words from the night before flashed across my mind.

Do it dishonestly or for reward and be forgotten.

Dear Father, whom I have never known, you bitchless son of the nether. May you fade into obscurity an unthanked god for this affliction you have placed upon me. The phrase ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ never struck as true as this day!

You want me to walk the straight and narrow in your name? Fuck you and all you stand for!

I will die or waste away before I do your bidding!

… But this world wants and needs my beauty, my passion, my providence. Force me with a curse you blaspheme by calling a blessing? I walk my own path and always have. I will do something so great that the world will know me before it ever knows you again. I will be so beloved that all the other gods resting atop your high mountain laugh at the Father who has been outshone by his mortal son.

It is but a whisper now. My name, echoed by all whom I have touched. Their love for me absolute.

Dear Father, listen, for soon it will be the only one our names that ever gets repeated again.

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