(Ed’s Note: This condensation is from Matthew Kelly’s book: Perfectly Yourself – Discovering God’s Dream for You. I did this condensation because I want to promote his book, which has helped me better understand myself and perhaps you could also benefit from what he has to say about seeking perfection in your life.)
Lesson One: Celebrate Your Progress
Recognize the “hunger” we all have.
Are you making progress in your desire for connection and union with God?
We need to understand the dynamics of change that so often eludes us. We need to be honest with ourselves. The truth is: Diets do not fail. We fail at diets. Relationships do not fail. We fail at relationships. Why can’t we transform our resolutions into habits? The answer is because we focus too much on the desired outcome and not enough the progress we are making. Just be yourself—life is not about doing and having, it is about becoming. Our resolutions involving programs and products divorce themselves from God and in doing so lose their connection with grace, and no great change happens without grace.
The first step toward becoming perfectly yourself is acknowledging your imperfections. Personal tendencies and talents should be accepted, but character defects should always be challenged. Think of a tree: Recognize that its branches are not all straight, yet it is perfect in its imperfections, you could say it’s perfectly imperfect, yet it does change and grow over time, and so can we. The goal is to find the balance between accepting ourselves for who we are and challenging ourselves to be all we are capable of being. Kindness toward ourselves precedes all genuine and lasting growth, and lightheartedness is a sign that we trust that we are exactly where we are right now for a reason.
The best-version-of-ourselves is not something we strive for and never achieve. It is something we achieve in some moments and not in others. Practice does not make perfect in this exercise, but it does make progress. We can become paralyzed by the fear of failure in this process and will not succeed in the effort until we believe that substantial change is possible. We need to appreciate that celebrating progress is fundamental in achieving the psychology of change. We must never allow our spirit to be stifled by failure. Failure is part of progress,
it is not a final outcome.
Progress fills us with gratitude for the now and hope for the future. Progress requires desire and action. Progress creates enduring happiness. Baby steps are the secret. Small victories lead to large victories.
Lesson Two: Just Do the Next Right Thing
All of us at one time or another have asked this uncomfortable question: Who am I, and what am I here for? And: What is life about? This moment is part of the process of maturing into a healthy adult human being. When you get the sense that something is wrong, realize that God has created you to be here right now for a specific reason.
We think that a new job, a new house, a new car, a different lover or an extended vacation is the answer to our restlessness. God asks us to stand still and create some time in the rush of everyday living to seek silence and solitude.
The self-discovery that so many people go off to other places in search of is right inside us when we discover that our imperfections are part of our perfection. We are perfectly imperfect. Our self-deception and misplaced expectations leave us searching for who we really are in ways that are both real and imaginary.
The key is to humble and honest enough to acknowledge which of our imperfections are part of who we are and which are obstacles that stand in the way of being perfectly imperfect. When we are humble every life experience is richer. Truth lived becomes wisdom and living in the things we know to be good and true begets further wisdom.
Have you ever been told that if you set your mind to it you could achieve anything? It is a lie. We have all set our mind to things and failed, causing us to feel inadequate. The truth is we may fail at things because we are simply not well suited to them. We are capable of extraordinary things, but each of us is different. Your skill or talent could be my weakness, and my skill or talent could be your weakness. The great challenge is not to succeed in the world’s eyes, but rather to discover what your unique abilities are and offer them to the world in the best way you can. To feel at home with who you are and where you are and what you are doing is worth more than all the treasures and pleasures money can buy.
Only one thing can be reasonably asked of you: that you be yourself. Too often we reject our identity as children of God, unique and wonderfully made, and take on false identities that focus on what we do or what we have, causing us to have an identity crisis. We can find ourselves by serving others for the sake of service rather than personal gain.
Most of us experience unhappiness when we wander away from ourselves by doing and saying things that contradict who we are and what we are here for. Unhappiness is not something that happens to us as if we are poor little victims.
Unhappiness is something we do to ourselves. You can choose to be happy, and God wants you to be happy even more than you do yourself. What is happiness? It is not easily defined, but we all know it when we experience it.
It is important to know that pleasure and happiness are not synonymous. Pleasure cannot be sustained beyond the experience producing it. When you eat, you experience pleasure. You stop eating, and the pleasure stops. That is why we do not stop eating. We are not hungry; we simply enjoy the pleasure that comes from eating. Happiness is different. Happiness can be sustained beyond the experience producing it.
Take for example, exercising or working out. Will you plant yourself in front of your TV with a huge bag of potato chips, or work out? The choice is yours. Watching TV and eating potato chips might give you some immediate pleasure, but will it last when you are done? Exercising gives you a sense of satisfaction and well-being long after you are finished, happiness can be sustained beyond the activity producing the happiness. Every moment of our life we choose between happiness and misery.
We yearn for happiness that can be sustained independently of substances—food, drink, drugs—and a happiness that can be sustained independently of circumstances—success, money, possessions, opportunities, weather and so on. Happiness is an inside job and has little to do with substances, money, possessions, pleasure or circumstances.
The philosophy of happiness in our culture is flawed; it promotes the idea that if you go out and get what you want, then you will be happy. The reason it does not work is because you simply never can get enough of what you do not really need. You have to want the right things.
Happiness cannot be found by pursuing happiness, it will elude you at every turn.
Happiness is not an end or even an experience. Happiness is a by-product of right living. My friend Tony says repeatedly to “Just do the next right thing!” If the choice is between exercising and vegetating in front of the TV, just do the next right thing. If the choice is between cheating on your wife or being faithful to her, just do the next right thing. By doing the next right thing, we live on into the answers to the questions that we could not answer before, because it was not time to answer them. Who knows what will happen a month from now? Don’t make decisions today that are not called for until next week, next month or next year. Nothing brings happiness like right living.
(Ed’s Note: Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Lincoln was right. Happiness, just like misery, is a choice we make.)
Happiness is a lot like wealth and wisdom: Those who have it generally don’t need to talk about it, and those who are constantly talking about it usually don’t have it.
Something wonderful is about to happen. People have an enormous capacity for good because we are created in the image of God, especially when their own survival is not threatened and our basic needs are being met. I believe in our capacity for change and growth. Every moment is another chance to turn it all around.
(Ed’s Note: Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, when we know what to do with it.” Two thoughts: 1) People who are miserable complain a lot. When you blame others for your condition, you give up your ability to change. 2) People who are good at whining and complaining are seldom good at anything else.)
All success has its root in being able to capitalize on the moment, endure the moment, and draw from the moment what is to be learned, gained or achieved. Why worry about the future and overlook the fact that how we deal with the present will determine what the future looks like. If you do not know what the next right thing to do is, quiet yourself for a moment and go to that place deep within you.
In each moment, do the next right thing. You cannot think your way out or talk your way out of problems. You acted your way into them, and you must act your way out of them. By simply doing the right thing, you will move from confusion to clarity, from misunderstanding to insight, from despair to hope, from darkness to light, and discover your truest self, the unique person God designed you to be.
Lesson Three: Put Character First
Character will affect the change we desire. Character will affect your future more than any other single ingredient. Character is not what someone says but what he or she actually does. Our future is an external expression of our internal reality.
(Ed’s Note: Mahatma Gandhi said “Keep your thoughts positive because thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because habits become your values. Keep your values positive because values become your destiny.” Gandhi absolutely knows what he is talking about.)
(Ed’s Note: Just as we can learn from our mistakes, we can gain character from our disappointments. Challenges do not build character, challenges reveal character. How we react to disappointments determines our character. Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% about how we react to it. Attitude is critical to building character and success, guts and determination seal the deal. You must make the right choices—do the next right thing—and take action.)
A person’s talent can blind us to what kind of person they really are. Talent is genetic or God-given. You are born with talents. You either have them or you do not. Talent may be obvious but it is still limited. (Ed’s note: Nobody will ever run a 3-minute mile.) It is important to note that while talent is limited, your ability to increase your character is unlimited. Character is a gift you give to yourself, and it is one of the few things that can never be taken from you.
(Ed’s note: Character is the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Clearly, character and integrity are joined at the hip.)
The thing I truly and deeply respect is virtue. There is simply nothing more attractive than virtue. The cornerstone of character is virtue (behavior showing high moral standards). Our culture has reduced all virtue to the universal virtue of niceness, which is no virtue at all. The most obvious example of this is in modern parenting. Many parents seem more interested in being a friend to their children than in being a parent. High school teachers can shirk the responsibility entrusted to them in the area of discipline, merely to be popular with their students. Trustworthiness is universally accepted as a litmus test of good character.
Rigorous honesty and love of truth in turn give birth to integrity. Honesty means that we can be taken at our word and that what we say can be trusted. Integrity means that we can be relied on to do what we say we will do. Together, honesty and integrity make us worthy of trust—we become trustworthy. If we are being dishonest with others, we are also being dishonest with ourselves. The external reality is an expression of the internal reality: We must lie to ourselves before we lie to anyone else. And that is betrayal of self. Being honest with ourselves is at the very core of integrity. The other side of honesty and integrity is when we do not speak up when we should. There is no personal integrity without honesty, and there is no enduring happiness without personal integrity. To attain real virtue requires constant dedication to the truth.
The enemy of character is ego. The true self speaks for character, and the false self speaks for ego. The authentic self finds its identity in all things that are good, true, beautiful and noble, while our personal ego is constantly making demands on insecurity and self-aggrandizement. It is this conflict between character and ego which surrounds the whole human drama.
All great music, movies and stories are centered on this struggle. When we are living from an ego-centered perspective, everything happens in relation to us. Ego wants you to always be the center of attention.
The authentic self is genuinely interested in other people, while the ego is interested only in what other people can do for it. We are not the center of the universe, and when we try to place ourselves there, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration.
Our lives genuinely improve only when we grow in virtue. Any other change is simply cosmetic. If we truly wish to grow in virtue, we must wean ourselves off instant gratification. Growing in virtue requires real and constant effort.
Pick a virtue and ask God to show you ways to develop that virtue in yourself. When you encounter someone in need, be generous with your time, talents or treasure. In each moment, just do the next right thing and your life will begin to flood with joy. There are no personal acts. Everything we do affects the people around us.
Just because you do something in the privacy of your home, behind closed doors, with no one else involved and no one else to witness the act, does not mean that that act does not affect other people. Every human act affects the future of humanity. Everything God created in the universe and beyond is connected.
Putting character first means that we will allow our thoughts, decisions, actions and relationships to become subordinate to this quest to become and remain authentic. This is only possible of course with the help of God’s grace. Alone we can do nothing. But with God and in God, so much is possible that we have not even begun to imagine.
Lesson Four: Find What You Love to Do and Do It
You only have so much time during your work life. Thoreau said most men and women lead lives of quiet desperation. Most people hate their job. They keep doing it to support their family, or they think chasing money, power, position or fame will give them satisfaction and happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. People do not want just a job, they want meaningful work. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best prize life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
We know that working hard and happiness are linked. Work is not a punishment. You do not have to do anything. Nobody can make you do anything. We choose to go to work. The primary meaning, purpose and value of work is that when we work hard and well, when we pay attention to the details of our work, we develop character and virtue. When we work, we gain the opportunity to partner with God. When work is approached in the right way and with the right frame of mind, it helps us to become more perfectly ourselves.
More than 2,350 years ago, Aristotle pointed out that happiness resides in activity, both mental and physical, and not idleness. We tend to confuse happiness with mere relaxation and being entertained. All honest work has an intrinsic value. Saint Augustine said “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Pray for God’s help, and then find your passion and get busy working.
Do not tell people you do not know what you want to do when you grow up. You are already grown. Ask “Who is God inviting me to become?”
Change from what do I want to what does God want. We are not asking, what does God want us to do; we are asking, who does God want us to become. Make a list of all the things you are passionate about and ask God to guide you to your passion. Try sitting in an empty room alone and listening quietly, you may be surprised what thoughts come to you.
Lesson Five: Live What Your Believe
We all believe in something. An atheist believes that there is no God. An agnostic believes that he does not know if there is a God. Christians believe there is a God.
(Ed’s note: Christians believe in the Holy Trinity: God, the creator of creation. Jesus, the Christ, God’s only Son and our Redeemer and Savior by His death on the cross and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. As Saint Patrick says, “We believe in the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the oneness, of the Creator of Creation.”)
People are not born with beliefs and opinions; these are the result of education and experience. Belief is something that evolves in our lives. We all have the capacity to believe, and what we believe affects the way we live our lives. There is no faster way to create enduring unhappiness than to act against our beliefs. The great challenge is to work out what we believe.
When it comes to everyday dilemmas, we all have a guide that is never wrong and often ignored. The voice of the authentic self calls to us ceaselessly form within. Traditionally it has been called the voice of conscience. Most of the time we seek counsel because we lack the courage to do what we know we ought to do. It was Socrates’ counsel that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Let us resolve to take some time each day to withdraw from the crazy, noisy, busy world into the sanctuary of the classroom of silence to work out who we are, what we believe, and what we are here for.
What we long for is the unity of life, one living, breathing, ordered life. It is important to remember that happiness is not achieved by the pursuit of happiness but rather the result of right living. Unity of life is established one decision at a time. Consciousness and choice are what we must grapple with if we are to find wholeness. They are the source of the division and the unity, the source of our brokenness and our healing. Pray: “Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth . . . ” The more complex our lives become, the more we need to accede to the gentle voice within.
Lesson Six: Be Disciplined
Our insatiable appetite for instant gratification tends to lead us farther and farther away from character, virtue, integrity, wholeness, and our authentic self. Coupled with our untamed affinity with instant gratification is our mistaken notion that freedom is the right or ability to do whatever we want. Do we really believe that a life without structure or discipline will yield the happiness we desire? I think not. Every area of our life—physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, professional and financial—benefits from self-discipline.
Advertising would have us believe that all our wants for food and diet, exercise, money and relationships will give us happiness. The common lie in all these programs is that you can be happy without discipline.
Saint Paul writes that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Self-control is a gift we give to ourselves and is the very essence of discipline. We are not born with discipline; discipline is acquired. We acquire discipline by practicing discipline. Self-control is always accompanied by self-awareness. As difficult as it may be, we must bring our temper, appetites and impulses under control by exercising discipline, knowing that the more discipline we develop the closer we will come to God’s plan for our life.
One way to help control your temper, appetites and impulses is by fasting. Our role model is, of course, Jesus. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness at the outset of His ministry. He was tempted by the devil and exemplified self-control.
Fasting does not have to involve food. You can fast from shopping, criticizing yourself and others, complaining and procrastination. You can fast from anything that causes you to become a slave of your temper, appetites or impulses. Getting better is a process, not a single action. To ultimately give yourself to others in service, you must first possess yourself. When you are in control of yourself, you can teach others to do the same.
Lesson Seven: Simplify
Clutter, congestion and confusion have become an accepted part of most people’s everyday experience in life, but it does not need to be that way. We have chosen and created the clutter and congestion. It needs to stop. We need to simplify, simplify, simplify. Simplicity is the way to clarity. We complicate our lives for 4 main reasons: 1) We don’t know what we really want, 2) We don’t have a clear sense of the purpose of our lives, 3) We are scared of missing out on something, and 4) We want to be distracted from the real challenges of the inner life.
Get clear about who you are and who you are not, about what you do and what you don’t do. Again, heal yourself by getting in control of yourself. Get discipline and set and keep standards of behavior. Clarity cannot be obtained in the noisy, busy world. Life is a series of choices. To make great choices, you must first become clear about why you are making them. Allow simplicity to direct our life and permit a measure of silence and solitude to have their proper place in the course of your daily activities.
The greatest lesson in simplifying your life is to learn to say “no”. Being perfectly yourself means doing only the things that are intended for you to do.
Money has a way of clouding our judgment. The most devastating poverty after lack of adequate food, water and shelter is the lack of opportunity. The great appeal of money is that it can buy opportunities. Money complicates our lives because once we have it, we feel we must possess it. After the money come the things—the stuff we buy because we just have to have it, the stuff we buy because everyone else has one, the stuff we buy because we were having a bad day, and the stuff we buy because we feel like rewarding ourselves. The thing about possessions is that they rent space in our minds. They lull us into a false sense of happiness that is not there. We could all enjoy things without having to own them, like enjoying a sunrise or sunset, smelling flowers, swimming, bicycling, hiking in the woods, or watching nature unfold before us.
Simplicity is one of the enduring principles of happiness.
Lesson Eight: Focus on What You Are Here to Give
It is the responsibility of each of us individually to do whatever is necessary to feel good about one’s self. Take time for quiet moments alone in silence. It is in this audience of one that we must convince ourselves that we are using our life in a worthy way. You have to look yourself in the eye when you gaze into the mirror and really like yourself. Self-esteem is essential to discovering God’s dream for our lives and essential if we are to establish enduring happiness.
Stage one in life is survival. Stage two is independence. Most people slide by stage three right into Stage four—effectiveness and thriving. Because they miss stage three, they end up living a life of quiet desperation. Stage three is mission. What is our mission in life? Why are you here?
These are difficult questions for most people of recognize and answer. That said, people who have a sense of mission in their lives are filled with a joy that is independent of substance and circumstances. Only a handful of people are called to great missions in their life. Most of us are called to missions more manageable in the context of our daily lives. That is the thing about a mission. You do not choose a mission; you are sent on a mission.
This is precisely the reason why so many explanations of the difficult stages of human development skip straight over the mission stage. It poses a problem in a society that idolizes self-determination. God calls us to a mission. This is important because having a mission and spirituality are inseparably linked. I do not know of anybody who is experiencing enduring happiness who does not have some sense of mission in his or her life.
The person with the greatest sense of mission in all of history was Jesus Christ. He was perfectly clear about who he was, what he was here for, what mattered most, what mattered least, what he was about, and the mission that every event and conversation was building toward. This astounding clarity and sense of mission was the result of his relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. The closer we get to God, the clearer our own sense of mission becomes.
What is your mission in life? This is a question you must answer for yourself. Ultimately, your mission will be driven by the needs of others and the needs of the world. See Matthew 20:28—The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. Our greatest strength as human beings is our ability to make a difference in the lives of other people, and yet it is the most unemployed of all human abilities. Francis of Assisi encouraged his listeners in this way: “First do what is necessary, then do what is possible, and before long you will find yourself doing the impossible.”
By shifting our focus from what we can get to what we can give, we open ourselves up to a life of service. Jesus placed an enormous value on service. He rejected all the ways the world measures greatness—fame, fortune, power, position, achievement, intellect, possessions and status. Jesus measures greatness by service to others.
(Ed’s note: Fear and fatigue block the mind. Confront both and courage and confidence will flow into you.)
Lesson Nine: Patiently Seek the Good in Everyone and Everything
Worry is the final obstacle to enduring happiness. We worry because we want to be in control of the situation or circumstance, but worry is a self-deception. Worry is often born from our unwillingness to admit that we are powerless over a certain situation or circumstance. We must each find a way to maintain our inner peace even in these times. Most things that I get worked up about are of absolutely no consequence. We tend to be afraid because we do not know how things are going to work out, but things are going to work out, one way or another.
(Ed’s note: Shaolin Kung Fu Philosophy helps me here. One of its tenants is: It has all happened before. Everyone and no one has been here before, and no matter how obscure it may seem to you, “the universe is . . . unfolding as it should”, or more precisely, as it cannot help but do. It is absolutely guaranteed that whatever the result becomes, it will be driven by a choice by someone.
We are exactly where we are in life because of the choices we have made. Another tenant is: Stop for charity, no matter what the cost, and there will be benefit instead of cost. It does not matter for whom.)
Problems are opportunities to build character. We can endure just about anything as long as we see ourselves moving toward a worthy purpose. Problems can teach us lessons when we are willing to learn.
(Ed’s note: When all else fails, remember this serenity prayer by American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”)
God speaks to us all in the silence. Only in the classroom of silence can we gain the calm and clarity that allow us to know when to wait patiently and when to push forward impatiently, when to plan diligently and when to live spontaneously. Visit the quiet of your own heart in silence alone without interruption and listen.
We live in an amazing and wonderful world. Those who believe that good things are going to happen to them are generally happier than those who do not. If we do not go seeking the good, then we will be constantly looking for what is wrong in everyone and everything.
(Ed’s note: Be a good finder, not a bad finder. God is good, not bad. He wants you to see the good in others. Nothing worth accomplishing comes easy, yet the reward is great when we serve others.)
A final note by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier—not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”
Copyright © 2020 Ed Bagley
I think it is true: God gives men 4 crucial gifts: The Gift of Life, The Gift of Choice, The Gift of Faith and The Gift of Women.
The Holy Trinity is really three persons in one—God the Father, the Creator of Creation as we know it; God the Son, Jesus, who by being crucified on the cross becomes our redeemer by canceling out our original sin passed down from Adam and also becomes our savior by arising from the dead so that we might be heirs to eternal life in heaven; and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life as we know it and live it on Planet Earth.
Here is why we are the benefactors of God’s 4 crucial gifts:
The Gift of Life
Without the Gift of Life we would not exist. We exist through the grace of God, our Creator.
Following is one example of why God remains relevant in today’s world:
Jesus said to His apostle Thomas (the “Doubting Thomas” as he would become known):
“You have seen me and now you believe. Blessed are those who have not seen me, yet still believe.”
Lesson: The knowledge of belief is a lifesaving gift. We are the only animal on Planet Earth who knows we will eventually die. When we die, we will lose our consciousness and experience either nothingness, or a life with our Father in heaven, even though we do not now know exactly what that afterlife will be.
Which is the better choice?
Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He was not kidding. To be blunt, He said it is either my way or no way.
We know that all good things come to an end, and nothing stays the same.
The Holy Bible teaches us that no one can come to the Holy Father except through Jesus, and that while doing good works is a Christian practice that is highly valued, we will ultimately be saved by the grace of God, and not by our good works in helping others.
The apostle Mark tells us that Jesus said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”
What is important about this message from Jesus is that you believe in Him and His word. The fact that you are also baptized is an important act of saying that you believe in God’s word, you are entering a new life with Jesus, and you are washed clean of the past and your sins.
Baptism for an adult simply means that your heart, not your mind, is changed by a leap of faith in Jesus; that is, you have found a better, more fulfilling way to live life here on Earth, God’s place for us to live when we are granted the gift of life through the Holy
Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life.
No specific act of doing good, including baptism, is necessary for you to be saved. If you were a believer and practicing your belief according to God’s plan for your life, you would still be saved, even if you were not aware that baptism, according to some believers, is a necessary condition to be saved. You will be saved by your belief, not your baptism.
That said, baptism will give you additional protection as a Christian because it is an act of faith and belief in God’s word. In the Catholic faith, baptism is the first of seven sacraments that are vital to the Catholic faith.
Many Christians believe that being baptized opens you up to receiving the Holy Spirit, and the protection of God’s angels, who have been messengers of His holy word.
God is really 3 persons in 1:
1) God, who created the universe and every good thing in it.
2) Jesus, who suffered an excruciating death on the cross to forgive our sins (the times when we have strayed from God’s plan for our lives), thus becoming our redeemer; and then arose from the dead (thereby conquering death on Earth), thus becoming our savior so that we might spend our continued life with God the Father in heaven.
3) and the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life on Earth, and the inspiration for every good deed that happens during our existence on Earth, including a sense of compassion, kindness, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, approval and, most important, love for one another.
The Gift of Choice
Jesus said: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” . . . “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (for example, if you do not want to be killed, then do not kill others).
This is simply said but difficult for us to achieve completely because of the devil, who appeals to our baser wants and desires in being human, including greed, envy, lust, lying, cheating, stealing, power, influence, pride, hatefulness, and gluttony.
The devil is any evil thing that prevents us from being the person God wants us to be, knowing that if we believe in God and follow Him, our life will be better for our belief and behavior. The devil is out to destroy our sense of goodness, and the spirit of God is always present to remind us that our spirit of goodness will always remain the better choice for our well-being.
We exercise our gift of choice when we sin simply because we are foolish. We foolishly think sinning gives us pleasure and perhaps a sense of satisfaction when, in fact, it ultimately gives us nothing but heartache and unrest.
We think taking another drink (as an alcoholic), taking another drug (as a drug addict), consciously lying, cheating and stealing (to increase our own wealth and material possessions at the expense of others), or giving into concupiscence (having an affair with our fellow worker or casual acquaintance for the thrill of the excitement, attention and ego boost) will give us more happiness and pleasure when, in fact, it does just the opposite—we yearn for more of what we should not have or do, then desire more, and are never satisfied.
There might be some sense of satisfaction but there can be no real happiness and peace of mind when we sin. All sin leaves us with is the desire for more of the wrong tonic—guilt, shame, uneasiness, or all three.
We want to do better, but we do not choose to do better because sacrifice, discipline, and loyalty seem even more difficult than sinning.
The choice between doing good and evil is not a concept, it is a real life choice we face every day and every moment of our lives. Every choice in life that we make has a consequence, and some consequences are more severe to our survival than others.
That is why sinning becomes such a lure; some of our sins do not provide us with immediate feedback on the long-term consequences of our actions (it takes very little time to become an alcoholic, a drug addict, or an adulterer).
The beauty of the gift of choice is that when we do things that will destroy us, we always have—because of our gift of free will—the opportunity to change our course of action by making a better choice. And better choices will produce better consequences.
When we sin and do not believe in Jesus, it is never too late to accept God the Farther, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit into our lives, and benefit from the blessings, mercy and grace that God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit can bring us.
Lesson: If you hear his voice today, harden not your heart. When in doubt, follow your heart, not your mind.
In the Book of Proverbs, we read that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
It is our heart that rules our final destiny, not our mind. Our mind is the devil’s playground, our heart is God’s place of rebirth and redemption, wherein goodness always remains an option through our forgiveness by the grace of God.
Lesson: God will reward our good choices and forgive our bad ones. Only the devil will encourage our bad choices; God will never do so because He is incapable of sin.
The more you do what God wants, the less the devil will influence your life, but you must continually choose to do the right thing with the right motives for the right reasons to get the right results.
Lesson: Trust in the Lord in all things and lean not unto your own understanding (your way of thinking).
The Gift of Faith
When everyone has abandoned us, and there is no hope that our life will get any better anytime soon, we can always count of this reality: God is with us and will never abandon us in our hour of need. We just need faith in our choice to follow God’s plan for our life.
Our gift of faith is joined at the hip by our longing for hope. Hope that there is something positive in our future that causes us to hang onto the precious gift of life. When a person loses all sense of hope they are a candidate for suicide to end it all.
We can solve our problems, loneliness and discouragement by using the talents He has given us. We must pray like it depends upon God, but act like it depends on us. God gives the birds food to eat, but He does not put it in their nest—they must work by going out and finding it, and so it is with us. The more effort we make doing the right things with right motives, the more God will recognize and reward our efforts.
Some people think that because God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit can do anything, they should do everything. Some common examples of apparent injustice happening to helpless people include a child dying of an incurable disease, people being killed by a natural disaster, or someone drinking and driving and killing an entire family during a head-on collision.
These are all tragic events that are part of our everyday life. We wish these events were not part of our everyday life, but they are, and we feel helpless and inadequate in preventing them. The prevalent thought is: How can a God of justice and mercy allow this to happen?
The answer is as complex as the triune God itself, the trinity of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In brief, if God were to prevent every tragedy on Planet Earth from happening, He would have to take away our free will, destroying our ability to act (make conscious choices) in our own self best-interest.
The problem is, without the ability to accept or reject God by using our free will, we would have no way to connect with God after death here on Earth without our conscious choice to accept and believe in Him while we are still alive.
Another consideration lies in the oneness of goodness. If we never experienced both good and evil, we would not be able to distinguish the difference between the two behaviors.
We can experience unwanted tragedy and suffer from our bad decisions and mistakes in judgment. We can also learn from our mistakes, and when doing wrong, make a different, better choice to do the right thing with right thinking and right motives the next time.
We should never assign blame for our circumstances because, when we blame others, we give up our power to change. And if we lack the will for change, there is no one who can show us the way. Not even Jesus Christ. When you turn your back on Jesus, He turns His back on you.
It is important to appreciate that while we will never be perfect (we will sin because it is in our nature), we can learn from our mistakes.
When we encounter adversity and do not what to do or say, prayer provides as answer to fill the vacuum of doubt, fear and uncertainty. There is tremendous power in prayer.
Even in the best of times, we could and should pray in thankfulness for power and glory of the triune God in our life.
It is also important to appreciate that adversity does not build character. Just as we can learn from our mistakes, we can gain character from our disappointments. It is our response to disappointment that builds character. We cannot always prevent what happens to us, but we can always control our attitude and response to what happens to us in everyday life.
Fear and fatigue block the mind. Confront both, and courage and confidence will flow into us. Understand that when stability becomes a habit, maturity and clarity follow. Do not be confused by the devil.
God gives us the opportunity to live our life on a higher plain by exercising our ability to
choose wisely. This not only pleases God but helps us better prepare for our life after death if, by God’s grace, we are able to join Him with His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit in heaven. In heaven we will not have to worry about evil. We may well be helping people avoid evil by watching over them from afar.
We should continually praise and thank God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for their blessings, and most certainly for their mercy and grace in our present life.
The Gift of Women
God recognized man’s loneliness and created women to help him along his way. The union of man and woman allows for the creation of new life, a most precious gift indeed.
If man only had himself he would get bored and tired in a hurry. Women were made in part to listen to man’s greatest accomplishments, worst failures and absolute foolishness.
Women are the equal, if not superior of men, in many good traits that matter in the union of relationships involving both men and women–compassion, kindness, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, approval and, most important, love for one another to name just a few.
Some men say they cannot live with women or without women. That is pure nonsense. If men did not have women in their life, Adam would have died in the Garden of Eden alone and life as we know would have stopped.
It is women, with the help of men, who conceive and bear the children who continue human existence on earth. We will all die eventually and if we do not see the generation coming behind us, life would not be as joyful, despite the challenges, as we carry on to our eventual destiny.
While it may be difficult for some men to admit, women can complete men, meaning that a man is always better off with a woman in his life. It is possible for men to complete women. The union of a man and a woman can make both better as a unit operating together rather than apart.
There are other gifts in our life, including God-given talent, intelligence and creativeness to mention three, but without a proper appreciation and understanding of first four great gifts, the rest would be window dressing. We create and develop every other gift in life because of the first four.
If you have read this far, you have a lot of stick-to-itiveness and patience. Whatever you think of one man’s opinion and belief, remember that it is one man’s opinion of the crucial importance of life—there are others with just as strong or greater beliefs.
Copyright © 2015 Ed Bagley
(Ed’s Note: Regrettably, Grandview Gardens has since been purchased by a private party that is now living in the former bed-and-breakfast as a home. There may never be a place like it still operating in the Western Washington area. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.)
When it’s time to get away from all the things we might label as “life interrupts” moments—the noise, distractions, calls, email and text messages to mention a few—you might want to consider Grandview Gardens in Keyport, WA.
When you have lived for more than seven decades, you begin to really appreciate the value of silence. When you walk into a lot of homes today, the occupants are surrounded by noise; it’s as if they couldn’t exist without the distractions. Children are on smartphones or tablets, playing video games, texting or yacking, the adults are multi-tasking as the television is on with the volume up and no one watching or listening.
More than one person has realized the value of silence, or quiet time. An example is French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who said “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. It is clear that Pascal meant quietly without any interruptions or distractions.
The obvious connection between Pascal and Grandview Gardens? Silence. Pure, unadulterated silence. At Grandview Gardens silence is a welcome blessing to the onslaught of mixed-media and multiple distractions all begging for our attention.
We live in an over-communicated world in which never being out of touch means never being able to get away. We are swept along in the same rapid current as everyone else, a current that is swift but hardly deep. There is no room to unplug and learn to think differently from the crowd. In silence we will be able to experience life instead of information.
Grandview Gardens is a quaint, quiet, calm waterfront bed-and-breakfast setting that is inspected and approved by the Washington Bed & Breakfast Guild for quality, comfort, cleanliness and hospitality. If that doesn’t sound like an ad, it should, and it’s true.
Don’t come to Grandview Gardens for its name, it has a garden, but it is not a garden showplace. Come for the home atmosphere, the waterfront and your hosts, Tom and Jackie Lewis. Tom will be the quiet one; Jackie will be the personality. They are excellent hosts. They will not disturb your room, your space or your enjoyable stay. Jackie will cook you a great breakfast in you wish, or not. It’s your choice.
The beauty of Grandview Gardens for my wife and me included no time we had to get up, no appointments to keep, no clients to see, no phones to answer, and no disturbances to mess with our mind, heart, soul or spirit.
Grandview Gardens is exclusive in that there are only two rooms—the Cape Cod Room and the Northwest Coastal Room–both designed and decorated for patrons who value quality and taste. We chose the Cape Cod Room because for more than 20 years we traveled from Washington State to Cape Cod to vacation with our extended family since my wife grew up in Massachusetts.
The Cape Cod Room has a two-tone, greenish-blue teal color with a vaulted ceiling, white crossbeam, crown molding, whitewood wrapped windows, queen bed, two lighthouse-styled lamps with night stands, a round table with 4 chairs, a couch and rocking chair, all of the electronics with a generous storage spaces on a stand below, tasteful artwork featuring shells, starfish and sailboats, and a bathroom with a double vanity, tub and shower with rain shower water heads. The room is impeccable, from the oscillating fan to the clever door locks.
The spacious window offers up a large deck area on the first floor below and a waterfront view with a marina, dock and the serene waters of Port Orchard Bay, surrounded by waterfront properties across the bay with a backdrop of enormous evergreen trees lining the hillside of the Olympic Mountain Range. Time literally stands still as watercraft slowly move through the bay to and from the Puget Sound.
Grandview Gardens is located in Keyport, 3 miles east of the Bangor Naval Submarine Base in the North Central Area of the Kitsap Peninsula in Western Washington. Keyport has a population of 554 people. If you do nothing else, don’t miss lunch with hand-rolled, delicious pizza at the Keyport Mercantile Store, and dinner at the upscale Whiskey Creek Steakhouse on the main road in Keyport.
We stayed five days and made a number of memorable side trips, including Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Port Ludlow.
Port Orchard was on my wife’s list because it is the home of Debbie Macomber, a #1 New York Times and USA Today best-selling American author of romance novels and contemporary fiction. We had tea and lunch at Debbie Macomber’s Victorian Rose Tea Room, which is next door to Debbie Macomber’s A Good Yarn Shop, where she actually writes her novels on the upper floor of her office.
From my perspective, visiting the Victorian Rose Tea Room is not a guy thing, but it’s guaranteed that the woman in your life will be thrilled that you went with her and bought her the latest Debbie Macomber book with Debbie’s personal autograph. My wife hasn’t read all of Macomber’s 485 published works, but she has read enough that, with thousands of other women readers, she has helped Debbie Macomber become a very rich author who had donated a lot of money to community projects in Port Orchard.
Poulsbo proved to be an education of an enlightened city with a mission: relieve you of your money and have you almost thanking them for doing so. Our time in Poulsbo was that good. Poulsbo is called Little Norway and, if you are of Norwegian descent, this would be a great place to live. Driving into Poulsbo, a city of 9,500 population, it is evident that the entire community decided to be pro-business rather than anti-business.
The city powers-to-be leveled their downtown waterfront area on Liberty Bay, developed a beautiful waterfront park with a generous parking area, and a series of quality restaurants with the waterfront view. Perfect for dining on a clear, sunny day on our August trip.
The adjacent main street above the waterfront is Norwegian themed and lined with boutiques and specialty shops for tourists and out-of-town guests. My favorite place at the Poulsbo waterfront was J.J.’s Fish House. We ate there twice and, even though I have paid a lot more for a seafood dinner at a fancier place, I have never enjoyed it more than I did at J.J.’s Fish House. From a businessman’s perspective, the cross-promotion and marketing materials by merchants in Poulsbo was exceptional.
Another favorite stop was The Fireside at the Port Ludlow Resort. Chef Dan Ratigan specializes in Northwest cuisine, has a habit of purchasing food locally, and then figuring out what to create with what he has bought. In a word, it’s amazing, especially the scallops.
We found our silence, away from the maddening crowd, at Grandview Gardens. We will be booking our reservations early for next year.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
If you were celebrating Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2008) with a candlelight dinner for two at home and settled in to watch a movie, “Sleepless in Seattle” would be a great choice because it provides a pleasant experience and is already becoming a romantic comedy classic.
Your parents or grandparents experienced a similar story line in the now classic “An Affair to Remember” that was released in 1957 and paired Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Their characters fall in love and agree to meet in 6 months at the Empire State Building in New York.
Sleepless in Seattle, released 36 years later in 1993, pairs Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin and Meg Ryan as Annie Reed. Sam is the recently widowed father of 8-year-old Jonah Baldwin (Ross Malinger), who calls a nationally-broadcast radio talk show, attempting to find his lonely father a partner.
A somewhat reluctant Sam talks to host Marcia Fieldstone and thousands of single women across America are suddenly drawn into Sam’s sense of love for his former wife, each wishing she could be as cherished as Sam’s next special person. To wit:
Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife?
Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together . . .and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home . . . only to no home I’d ever known . . .I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like . . . magic.
If that dialog does not melt every woman’s heart she would need to go straight to “The Wizard of Oz” and receive a new transplant. Soon Sam is getting thousands of letters from wannabe partners, all of which are read by his son Jonah, who decides that “Annie” is the best choice.
Annie is engaged to marry Walter (Bill Pullman). Should she do so she would be making the first great mistake of her life. Walter is a decent enough chap, but Annie is missing any sparks in their relationship because Walter has the personality of an ashtray.
Annie goes to great lengths to meet Sam, flying from New York to Seattle only to discover Sam with another woman, whom she mistakes for a love interest. She never mails a letter she has written to Sam, but her friend does. In it she proposes to meet Sam on top of the Empire State Building.
Sam is not interested in going, but his son Jonah is, so, with the help of his new friend whose parents own a travel agency, he is able to book a flight to the Big Apple and ends up on the observation deck of the Empire State Building looking for Annie. Sam, in a panic, to find his son, follows him to New York. The rest you will have to see.
Hanks is very convincing as a forlorn widower and Ryan was at her peak of being cute and innocent. The chemistry between the two, who only share approximately 2 minutes of screen time together, is great.
The role of Annie was originally offered to Julia Roberts but she turned it town. Kim Basinger, who was also offered the part, turned it down because she thought the premise was ridiculous. Just recently in the news, a youngster in Jonah’s peer group did exactly what Jonah did, managed to book flight on a major airline and fly undetected. Life is indeed stranger than fiction.
The screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle was written in part by Nora Ephron, who also wrote “When Harry Met Sally” (another great romantic comedy with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal). Ephron directed the film.
Ephron, David S. Ward and Jeff Arch (who did write the story) were nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and the film received another nomination for Best Original Song (“A Wink and a Smile”). Sleepless in Seattle also got Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Actress (Meg Ryan).
Sleepless in Seattle cost $21 million to film and grossed $227 million worldwide at the box office, adding another $65+ million in rentals.
Tom Hanks is the gold standard in acting. He has been nominated for 5 Best Actor Oscars (“Big”, “Philadelphi”a, “Forrest Gump”, “Saving Private Ryan” and “Cast Away”) and won twice for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Hanks also has won 4 Best Actor Golden Globes for Big, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Cast Away.
His films have grossed more than $3.3 billion. He remains only 1 of 3 actors to have 7 consecutive $100 million domestic blockbusters; the other two are Tom Cruise and Will Smith.
Sleepless in Seattle is viewed by many guys as a “chick flick” but not by me. I consider it an outstanding relationship film with a great story line that proves to be a pleasant viewing experience every time I see it again. If a guy has ever been in love and felt the magic, he will appreciate this film a lot more.
(Note: Celeste Champagne is my New York Editor, a cat lover, a classic movie buff, and has been a close friend of mine for 37 years (same as family). Celeste will be occasionally reviewing classic films for publication on my web site, and I am excited to welcome her as one of my select contributing writers. Here is her first contribution. –Ed Bagley)
Copyright © 2009 Celeste Champagne
Alfred Hitchcock is a personal favorite of mine so seeing “Shadow of Doubt” again for the first time on a full-sized screen in a theater was a real thrill. This 1943 film was also a personal favorite of Hitchcock’s as well, and blends humor and suspense with realism, horror and romance.
Shadow of a Doubt was filmed in Santa Rosa, California, and evokes the film noir feeling of the post-World War II era. With the screenplay by Thornton Wilder, it is slow moving but builds perfectly on the distinct fear-factor that showcases Alfred Hitchcock’s creative genius.
Joseph Cotten (Uncle Charlie Oakley) is the romantic uncle come to visit after a long absence (but really to elude two detectives trailing him). His sister, Emma Newton, played by Patricia Collinge, is enamored of her brother as is her daughter, “Charlie”, played by Teresa Wright and named for him. His arrival stirs the household and this sleepy town.
Several locals were cast in the film, the best of whom was Edna May Wonacott who plays the Newton’s younger daughter, Ann.
The weaving of the father’s (Joseph Newton, played by Henry Travers) interest in mysteries and the games he plays with his neighbor, played masterfully by Hume Cronyn as Herbie Hawkins, further enhances the sinister subtext.
A visit to the Newton home by two detectives investigating the “Merry Widow Murders” sets off a flurry of activity. The lead detective played by Macdonald Carey (long associated with the TV soap opera “Days of Our Lives”) creates the platform on which the suspicions about her uncle play out in Charlie’s mind.
After a visit to the library she discovers the paper she saw Uncle Charlie tear up contained stories of the killer of rich widows whom she slowly (and sadly) comes to suspect is her uncle. Macdonald Carey, as Jack Graham, further convinces her that her uncle is the man they are seeking.
Word comes that another suspect in the murders was accidentally killed in the East thus narrowing the “persons of interest” list.
With all this said, we are still sympathetic to the charm of Charles Oakley and feel compelled to root for him. His deeds are reprehensible, but his smooth-talking manners almost overshadow them. When he realizes that his niece is on to him and he must kill her, he tries to do so three times—all without success.
The last attempt comes as he boards the train to take him back East. As he tries to push her off the platform, he himself slips and is crushed to death by a passing train. At the funeral that follows, only “Charlie” and the detective, with whom she has developed a romantic relationship, know the truth about her uncle.
Shadow of a Doubt’s realism comes from the town it was filmed in and the people who live there. The thrills which take place at the end are all part of the mood created by the tight psychological atmosphere. It is a movie which holds up today with its costumes by Adrian and musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin.
There are no actors today in the realm of a Joseph Cotten, one of Welles’ original Mercury Players. Cotten died in 1994 of complications from throat cancer at the age of 88, never having received a major award for his tremendous body of work.
Teresa Wright, perhaps better known for her role of Peggy Stephenson in “The Best Years of Our Lives”, lived to age 86 and died of a heart attack at Yale New Haven Hospital on March 6, 2005. Her second husband was the playwright, Robert Anderson, from whom she was divorced but maintained a cordial relationship until her death.
If suspense draws you in, there is no doubt that Shadow of a Doubt is an Alfred Hitchcock gem you should experience, preferably on the big screen when possible.
Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley
“Radio”—the true story of high school football coach Harold Jones and a mentally-challenged young man named James Robert “Radio” Kennedy—might well be one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated movies in film history.
James Kennedy was nicknamed “Radio” by the townspeople of Anderson, South Carolina because he was always listening to discarded radios. As a youth he would push or ride a grocery cart down the street, talking to no one. It was 1976 and Radio did not attend school because he was mentally challenged, and an easy target for kids more fortunate.
After some football players on coach Harold Jones’ T. L. Hanna High School team harass, intimidate and scare the living daylights out of Radio (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), Jones befriends and protects Radio by slowly winning his trust and inviting him to the team’s football practices.
Coach Jones (played magnificently by veteran actor Ed Harris) eventually has Radio helping as a “coach” and sitting on the bench during the games. When Radio’s new-found acceptance leads to his self-image and self-confidence rising, his enthusiasm creates a distraction for the team at a critical moment, and some boosters (like the father of a star player) want Radio gone.
Fortunately for Radio, his unpretentious love and loyalty to the coach and players resonates as Radio is allowed to remain part of both the team and the school. At this point in time, Radio is attending school, not as a student, but as a positive influence on the students and a welcome school-helper.
All of this is reminiscent of the biblical admonition “if you hear His voice today, harden not your heart.” Radio is about love, acceptance, approval, understanding, compassion, kindness, loyalty and finding peace in our time.
Radio the movie was inspired by Gary Smith’s 1996 article titled “Someone to Lean On” that first appeared in Sports Illustrated magazine. The film benefits greatly from the script by Mike Rich and direction by Mike Tollin, also one of the producers with Herb Gains and Brian O’keefe. Radio managed to generate $52+ million at the box office but received mixed positive (of which I am one) and negative reviews by the critics.
Radio was a terrific movie with a genuine message of value. Radio gets a positive answer to my most searching question as a movie reviewer: Am I a better person for having seen this film? You better believe it.
I am incensed that Radio was absolutely snubbed at major awards time. It is not like Ed Harris is a nobody. Before Radio was made, Ed Harris had been nominated for 3 Oscars as Best Supporting Actor (“The Hours”, “The Truman Show” and “Apollo”) and been nominated for Best Actor in “Pollock”. Add to those honors 4 nominations by the Golden Globes and a Best Actor Golden Globe for The Truman Show.
Cuba Gooding Jr. had won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in “Jerry Maguire” (remember his famous line “Show me the money”) and was nominated for a Golden Globe for the same award.
The good news about Radio is that Radio is still helping coach the Hanna High School team and bringing his presence to the school. He remains a story that continues to grow and radiate with positive vibes.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
“Pretty Woman” was originally scripted as a dark drama about prostitution in Los Angeles, but thankfully movie producer Laura Ziskin said “No” and what started out as a very brooding, negative film turned into one of the most popular and financially successful romantic comedies of all time. Find out why.
With a production cost of $14 million and a worldwide gross of $464 million, Laura Ziskin had to be smiling all of the way to the bank.
Pretty Woman’s title character, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), is a down-on-her-luck prostitute who is hired by Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a wealthy businessman and corporate raider, as arm candy for several business functions.
The arrangement works well but begins to get complicated when Edward discovers Vivian is not just a hooker from Hollywood Boulevard but also a woman of substance, and Vivian finds herself falling in love in a situation that essentially has no future.
There is nothing positive about the common perception of a hooker, but Vivian smashes through the normal perceptions by quickly getting viewers past her obvious good looks and revealing her inner beauty, transparent feelings and uncompromising commitment by not settling for a comfortable, Edward-financed lifestyle as arm candy and companion.
Her willingness to walk away from the fee arrangement for her gig ultimately gets Edward’s attention, and a Hollywood story line takes over. Vivian becomes so likeable we want to cheer for her as she stands her ground and forces Edward to decide about his feelings for her. Both Vivian and Edward experience some serious personal growth that moviegoers can relate to and appreciate.
The story line reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which became the basis for the Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl who morphs into a beautiful princess. The character of Vivian also reminds me of Audrey Hepburn’s role as Holly Golightly, another lady of the night in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
Director Garry Marshall completely avoids negatives in this film by wisely handling Vivian’s role, and playing the characters around her like a concert master fine tuning an orchestra. His work went a long way in helping Pretty Woman win a Golden Globe for Best Picture. Richard Gere picked up a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and Hector Elizondo won a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe as the hotel manager Barney Thompson.
The shining star in Pretty Woman was Julia Roberts. She was a relative unknown at the time, and walked away with a Golden Globe as Best Actress and an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress.
Pretty Woman, released in 1990, was notable for the number of leading ladies who turned down the role of Vivian, including Molly Ringwald, Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daryl Hannah. Julia Roberts really won the role by default, but she made the most of her opportunity and the movie quickly made her Hollywood’s newest sweetheart, a role she held for nearly 15 years.
Al Pacino also turned down the role of Edward Lewis, leaving the door open for Richard Gere.
Here is some key trivia in the movie:
1) The opera in San Francisco that Edward flies Vivian to in a private jet is “La Traviata”, the tale of a Parisian courtesan who falls in love with a wealthy young man.
2) Richard Gere actually plays the piano himself in a late night scene, he even composed the music that he plays.
3) The sports car Edward borrows at the beginning of the movie is a Lotus Esprit. Ferrari and Porsche turned down the advertising opportunity because they did not want to be associated with soliciting prostitutes. Lotus won big time as its Esprit sales tripled during the next year.
The film also benefited from its title and association to “Oh, Pretty Woman”, Roy Orbison’s worldwide hit recorded 26 years earlier.
I really liked Pretty Woman and not just because of Julia Roberts’ jump-off-the-screen attractiveness, especially after Edward escorts Vivian to Rodeo Drive for a shopping spree, proving that clothes can complete even a very attractive woman. Even more important is her courage, determination, substance and dignity under stress.
If you like relationship movies and romantic comedies, Pretty Woman is a must see.
Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley
The release of “The Phantom of the Opera” in 2004 was such an exciting event, bringing this great play to film so millions could see the excellence of this masterpiece, which garnered only 3 nominations and no Oscars at the Academy Awards. No matter. Perhaps the earlier success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical composition of The Phantom of the Opera, based on the novel The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, was too successful to give the movie version much acclaim.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical opened in London in 1986 and in New York in 1988 and still runs today as the longest running Broadway musical of all time. It has become the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time, selling 80 million tickets and generating a worldwide gross of $3.3 billion, topping the best-grossing film of all time—”Gone eith the Wind”—by $2 billion.
This Phantom of the Opera movie has it all: a story line, plot, great writing, great presentation, and even better music and lyrics.
A cast of unknowns was used; there is no headliner, but the female lead (Emmy Rossum as Christine) is attractive and, much more important, an opera singer who can sing without having her voice dubbed in.
Some reviewers panned this movie because the bad guy (Gerard Butler as The Phantom who lives under the opera house) is not ugly enough. With this mentality, the actress who wins the next Oscar for female lead will have to have a perfect body and perfect face to win. Sometimes, common sense prevails, otherwise, Meryl Streep would never have garnered 12 nominations and two Oscars.
This Phantom is not perfect, but it is very well done, and the music could not be better. There are so many great songs (as it is with all great musicals); and I loved the voice of Emmy Rossum. See this film when you can, you will be better for the experience.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
Bless yourself by renting “Nanny McPhee” and sharing it with your children at home, not in the movie theater. Do this because this film is all about home and your children might relate better in the comfort of their own home. Nanny McPhee is an excellent film with a wonderful message for all children to recognize and understand.
In an entertainment world full of trashy and violent video games with movies to match that dwell on murder, rape, sex, drugs, alcohol, filthy language, broken relationships and crummy morals, Nanny McPhee is everything good about movies for children. You and your children can watch this film without fear of unpleasant and unwanted garbage rooted in sensationalism for ratings and greed.
When finished watching, you can thank the uncompromising excellence of British actress Emma Thompson and British director Kirk Jones for the incredible excellence of Nanny McPhee. I watched this film and went to bed wondering if it was as good as I thought it was. I watched it again the next night and did not wonder again.
Thompson—who has won 2 Academy Awards for Best Actress (Howards End in 1992) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Sense and Sensibility in 1995), and 2 BAFTAs for Best Actress (Howards End and Sense and Sensibility)—wrote the screenplay for Nanny McPhee. BAFTA is the equivalent of the American Oscars, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Kirk Jones (not to be confused with the American rapper and actor Kirk Jones) is a gifted writer and director with great work that has not been properly recognized. Combine Emma Thompson with Kirk Jones and you have the formula for a winning production.
In 1998 Jones wrote and directed his first feature film “Waking Ned Devine” with a budget of $3 million that grossed $90 million worldwide. I believe Jones should have two Oscars and probably would if it were not for the fact that Hollywood’s voters are too busy pawing each other and posing for pictures to correct their near-sightedness.
Until a comedy is made that is better than Waking Ned Devine it shall remain my favorite comedy of all time.
If it sounds like I am gushing over Nanny McPhee, I am. There are so many good lines in this script I would not dare to recount them here. Watch the movie and enjoy the experience of listening carefully.
Nanny McPhee the movie is named for a governess (Emma Thompson) who uses magic to rein in the behavior of 7 out-of-control children of recently widowed Mr. Brown (Colin Firth).
Mr. Brown must answer to his Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) who has been financing his family’s livelihood and now commands him to marry within the month or she will cut off his sustenance. His bratty children have a genuine fear of losing their father should he marry the widowed Mrs. Quickly (Celia Imrie).
The children, who collectively have driven away 17 consecutive nannies, are led by their older brother Simon (Thomas Sangster). All 6 of the younger children—Tora (Eliza Bennett), Lily (Jennifer Rae Daykin), Eric (Raphael Coleman), Sebastian (Samuel Honywood), Christianna (Holly Gibbs) and Baby Agatha (Hebe Barnes and Zinnia Barnes)—face the same fate as Simon.
Enter Nanny McPhee with her magic and old-fashioned discipline that makes the children aware of their behavior, and soon the children become models of what to do and when to do it.
Beyond the obvious endearments, what makes this film excellent is two huge but subtle elements.
One is the guts of the writer and actress Emma Thompson who creates a character for herself that is repugnant upon first sight. She has two huge warts on her face and an enormous tooth cascading down over her lower lip. Nanny McPhee will repel you upon first look. Thompson’s acting skills allow her to be perfectly relaxed and confident despite her appearance. Her make-up was done by designer Peter King.
The other element is the discovery by the children that when they learn a major lesson, one of the warts disappears, and eventually through model behavior by the children, Nanny McPhee becomes better and better looking.
In many such films as this—the “Sound of Music” with Julie Andrews comes to mind—the nanny only influences the children. In Nanny McPhee, the children also become powerful agents for positive change, empowering them in the process. Never underestimate the insight and brilliance of Emma Thompson, the writer or actress.
A tip of the hat to Angela Lansbury in her role as well. Lansbury is a living legend who never goes out of character as Aunt Adelaide. From Broadway to Hollywood to television and back, Angela Lansbury is a British national treasure.
Nanny McPhee is based on the “Nurse Matilda” books by Christianna Brand. Emma Thompson said it took her 9 years to write the screenplay; it took her 5 years to write her Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility.
Trust me when I say that Nanny McPhee was worth the wait and then some. Watch Nanny McPhee and learn with your children some important lessons in human nature.
Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley
After watching so many pay-for-view, big time, hyped fights on the tube and being totally disappointed, watching “Million Dollar Baby” was refreshing because I really got my money’s worth.
Million Dollar Baby is the story of Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank), a 31-year-old woman who wants to achieve her idea of the American Dream: to become a professional boxer. She finds her way to Frankie Dunn’s (Clint Eastwood) gym only to get the cold shoulder.
Dunn, who barely stays afloat as a boxing trainer in a run-down gym, has never tasted real fame and fortune. Some of his fighters moved on to more aggressive managers and have earned more fame and fortune.
“Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman) acts as a go-between to bring Frankie and Maggie together. Dupris realizes Maggie is dead serious, a devout trainee and stubborn in her quest. The word “no” is not in Maggie’s vocabulary. Frankie eventually agrees to take her on, and she fights her way to a title shot.
Her quest to be a champion takes a heart-wrenching turn when she becomes 100% paralyzed during the title fight. Her opponent throws a cheap-shot punch after the bell ending a round, and Maggie collapses to the mat, hitting her head on the corner stool with neck-shattering force.
It is here that the drama really begins in earnest as Frankie must now deal with his fighter whose career abruptly ends.
The bond between Frankie and Maggie becomes a “family” issue as Maggie cannot deal with her misfortune; she attempts suicide but fails, and then enlists the help of Frankie to end her misery.
How Frankie, a Catholic who attends Mass almost every day, deals with Maggie’s request brings to light the controversial topic of euthanasia.
You must see this film to understand how emotional Frankie’s decision becomes. The issue of euthanasia is dealt with very sensitively and in a balanced way; it is worth the price of admission alone.
This is a good film that has the hardware to prove it. When the 2005 Academy Awards presentation ended, Million Dollar Baby, nominated for 7 Oscars, won 4, including Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Actress (Hillary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman as Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris).
Eastwood was also nominated for a Best Actor Oscar but did not win in his role as Frankie Dunn.
Paul Haggis who wrote the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. Million Dollar Baby is based on short stories by F. X. Toole, the pen name of fight manager and “cut man” Jerry Boyd.
Some critics wore out their keyboard pads yipping about what was wrong with this film, but the award givers were far more generous. In addition to the 7 nominations and 4 Oscars, Million Dollar Baby also picked up a ton of awards (another 44 wins and 29 nominations).
I believe a lot of folks are just plain upset with Clint Eastwood for winning another two Oscars with Million Dollar Baby as a Director and Producer (Best Picture). Eastwood was not known as a great actor. His “spaghetti Westerns”—on my personal favorites list– were not exactly Oscar material), but he has become a Director of note.
Eastwood also won two Oscars for “Unforgiven” (Best Director and Best Picture) as well as being nominated for Best Actor which he did not win. He was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for “Mystic River” but did not win.
Some people are just bummed out because he was considered a so-so actor and now has become a Director and Producer to be reckoned with.
Million Dollar Baby is a standout compared to much of the trash Hollywood is producing today. And Eastwood? I just like him. If I had to go to war or fight in an alley, I would want Clint Eastwood on my team and in my corner, anything less and you would not qualify as a red-blooded American male.
Ghost is everything that is right about a really scary movie. There are clearly good guys and bad guys, there is uncertainty about whether all of the good guys will be standing at the end of the movie, there is romance, there is sacrifice, there is redemption, there is the surreal to deal with, there is trying to stay grounded in reality, there is good and evil, and there is the eternal question of whether good will triumph in the end.
Ghost begins innocently enough as Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore) have a romance heading toward marriage when he is killed by a thug during a mugging. Upon death Sam experiences an out-of-body awareness that he has not left this world, he can see as if he is here, but no one can see or hear him.
Sam’s out-of-body experience in Ghost works because Sam is not only an observer of what is happening, but he is a participant in the story line of the existing action.
Sam does not realize that Carl (Tony Goldwyn), his co-worker at the bank, has hired Willie (Rick Aviles) the mugger to relieve Sam of his wallet, which contains the passwords to the bank accounts of well-heeled customers. Carl needs the passwords because he is tied to a drug money laundering operation and will be killed if he does not accomplish the transaction on time.
Only later does Sam hear his friend Carl scold Willie for bungling the job by not getting the passwords and killing Sam in the process.
Sam then realizes that Molly is Carl and Willie’s next target because they think the passwords remain in Molly’s apartment. Sam is temporarily able to keep Molly out of harm’s way but must find a way to communicate to her the danger that lurks ahead.
His answer lies in the discovery of Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a scam spiritualist who, much to her surprise and distress, can hear Sam but not see him. So it is up to Oda Mae, through Sam’s knowledge and credibility, to convince Molly that her life is in danger.
Oda Mae goes a little crazy with her new newfound ability, but eventually, with Sam’s help, warns Molly of her imminent danger. Carl wants the passwords and will kill Molly to get them, especially after Sam and Oda Mae thwart his ability to move money through the bank.
The ending to Ghost is simply too good and too surprising to share here, the suspense is spellbinding and the result is worth the trauma. Ghost is a romantic movie set as a drama with danger. Ghost also gets better as it goes along, so you need to hang in there to appreciate what happens.
Ghost is a movie we want to believe. We buy into it because of Sam and Molly’s relationship, we grab it and hold on when tragedy strikes, then we want to let go when danger sets in, and Ghost will not let us go, we are doomed to ride with the eventual fate of the story. The ending proves this is a great movie that is worth our attention, hence our fervent and subtle imagination is satisfied and at rest when the curtain closes.
Whoopi Goldberg manages to turn her performance into an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress, and the screenplay writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, also won an Oscar. This is one of the best screenplays I have seen, and Rubin certainly deserved to take home the hardware.
I almost gave Ghost a 4, my highest rating, but kept it at 3, reserving the right to raise its rating at a later date, something that is certain to happen should I have any out-of-body experiences in my future.
A classic tale of a Jewish family’s values, tradition and culture. The old world clashes with the new when Tevye’s three daughters all refuse arranged marriages as love leads them to choose their own partners in life, breaking with tradition and paternal obedience.
Their disobedience proves to be the least of this Jewish family’s problems and its community’s impending fate as the Czar forces the Jews out of Russian to a new land and a new life. Just one of many unforgettable lines from this excellent movie is when the Rabbi is asked if there is a prayer for the Czar, and he answers “God bless the Czar, and keep him far away from us.”
Excellent musical score, great acting and an even greater story line. Films about relationships and living life—with its struggle, moments of joy and unwanted challenges—have a special place in our hearts, as our ability to relate touches our heart and mind and soul.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
Let me get to the most important thing first: Director Martin Scorsese won an Oscar for “The Departed”. Scorsese, one of the most accomplished directors of our era, has been nominated for 7 Oscars—5 for Best Director and 2 for Best Screenplay—before winning with The Departed. He had also received 7 Golden Globe nominations—6 for Best Director and 1 for Best Screenplay—and won for “Gangs of New York” before winning again for The Departed this year (2007).
The Departed is simply the best mob film since Mario Puzo’s original “Godfather” in 1972. Besides Scorsese, The Departed won for Best Picture, Best Screenplay (William Monahan) and Best Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), giving The Departed 4 Oscar wins to The Godfather’s 3 (Marlon Brando for Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola). Mark Wahlberg was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor as Sgt. Sean Dignam.
The Departed also picked up 45 more wins and another 45 nominations, including another win for Scorsese (Best Director) and nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg) at the Golden Globes.
In short, The Departed brought home more hardware than a Home Depot shopping spree. The icing on the cake for Scorsese was his best box-office opening ever ($26 million), his highest grossing film ever with $132 million nationally and $288 million worldwide through March 2007, and $48 million more in VHS rentals. The film’s budget was $90 million.
The all-star cast of DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Sgt. Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Wahlberg (Sgt. Sean Dignam), Martin Sheen (Capt. Oliver Queenan) and Alec Baldwin (Capt. George Ellerby) did not hurt a lick.
The story takes place in Boston where Irish Mob boss Frank Costello (Nicholson) embeds Colin Sullivan (Damon) as an informant with the Massachusetts State Police. Simultaneously, the State Police assign Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) to infiltrate Costello’s crew. When both sides figure out the situation, it is left to Sullivan and Costigan to discover each other’s identity.
Along the way, 22 people get whacked (this is a Mob flick), the “f” word is used 237 times (about 235 times too many), and we get a study in relationship psychology as the only real love interest—Madolyn Madden—is a criminal psychiatrist who is wooed by both rivals. The Departed kept my attention riveted for 151 minutes.
The three main characters (Costello, Sullivan and Costigan) all show their anguish in balancing survival, winning and conquering the moment. There are apparently two versions of this film. I saw the longer version that is rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, and some strong sexual content and drug material.
This film is not for children or young adults, not that young adults do not hear the same “f” word dozens a time a day at high schools all over the country, but who needs the “f” word 237 times in 2.5 hours? Nobody. I managed to tune out the cussing and concentrate on the story, acting and presentation that were excellent for an action flick with Mob presence.
© 2007 Ed Bagley
Let me get right to it: The musical “Chicago” is absolutely everything it was cracked up to be.
Imagine a chanteuse named Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who kills both her husband and her sister when she finds them in bed together.
Imagine a bored wife named Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) who has an affair with a man she thinks can make her a star only to find out she has been had and is so mad she kills him.
Imagine them both in jail awaiting trial for murder with the eventual prospect of death row. Their only out is to create enough of a stir in the press to become famous and desired by an insatiable public in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties with its booze, nightclubs and all that jazz.
Now you have a musical prescription for Chicago.
Add in Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) who rules the jail with an iron hand that can only be greased with money, and Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), an attractive, slick attorney who always gets his client acquitted while making them into even bigger stars in jail than on the stage, and you have the ingredients for a fantastic story.
A superb cast of singers and dancers under the direction of Rob Marshall brought Chicago together in a super professional, entertaining romp that generated 13 Oscar nominations and won 6 in addition to 30 wins and 52 nominations from other award groups.
Winning Oscars at the Academy Awards were Catherine Zeta-Jones for Best Supporting Actress, Chicago for Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.
Oscar nominations went to Renee Zellweger for Best Actress, John C. Reilly (as Roxie’s husband Amos) for Best Supporting Actor, Queen Latifah as Best Supporting Actress, Rob Marshall as Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song “I Move On” and Best Writing.
Watching Chicago made me realize how good Catherine Zeta-Jones is as a signer and dancer. Zeta-Jones is such a classic beauty that it is easy to get stuck just looking at her.
While I have never been a big fan of Renee Zellweger, perhaps because of her prior roles, I am now.
While Zeta-Jones had prior experience Zellweger apparently had no singing and dancing training prior to this film. Even Richard Gere surprised me. I have never thought of Gere as much of an actor, never mind a singer or dancer. He took tap dance lessons for three months to prepare for the part, and apparently won the role almost by default after John Travolta was offered the part several times.
After Chicago became Miramax’s highest grossing film generating $171 million at the domestic box office, Travolta apparently deeply regretted declining the part.
I still asked myself how Chicago could have been so good. A little research revealed that Chicago could have been famous for the people who did not get key parts as those who did. In addition to Travolta, Kevin Spacey, John Cusack and Hugh Jackman were considered for the part.
Auditioning for Catherine Zeta-Jones’ part as Velma Kelly were none other than Angelina Jolie and Madonna. Auditioning for Renee Zellweger’s role as Roxie Hart and some other parts in the film were Goldie Hawn, Kathy Bates, Rosie O’Donnell, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristin Chenoweth, Cameron Diaz, Whoopi Goldberg and Britney Spears.
Director Rob Marshall wanted Catherine Zeta-Jones to wear her natural long hair in the movie, but she insisted on the short bob, explaining that she did not want her hair to fall over her face and give people a reason to doubt that she did all of the dancing herself.
Apparently Zeta-Jones was originally approached to play the role of Roxie Hart but would not as she knew the character of Velma Kelly sang “All That Jazz” and she wanted to play that role so she could sing that song.
Charlize Theron was initially selected to play the role of Roxie Hart when another director was involved but lost out when Rob Marshall took over as director. The casting of Renee Zellweger proved to be a very wise choice.
Chicago is based on the book by Bob Fosse, the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and the screenplay by Bill Condon.
Much of the dialog in the film is good, and funny. Here are some exhibits from the courtroom, and when the women on death row are retelling their misfortune:
Velma Kelly: Yes, it is.
Assistant District Attorney Martin Harrison: I submit this as Exhibit X – Roxie Hart’s diary!
Billy Flynn: I object! My client has never held a diary! And even if she did, this would be . . . invasion of privacy, and violation of the fourth amendment, and . . . and illegal search without a warrant!
Roxie Hart: Yeah, AND she broke the lock!
Billy Flynn: Miss Kelly, did you make a deal with Assistant D. A. Harrison to drop all charges against you in exchange for your testimony?
Velma Kelly: Why, sure. I’m not a complete idiot.
Liz: You know how some people have those habits that get you down? Like Bernie. Bernie liked to chew gum. No, not chew. POP. So I come home from work one night and I’m real irritated, and I’m looking for a little sympathy. And there’s Bernie, lying on the couch, drinking a beer and chewin’. No, not chewin’, POPPIN’. So I said “If you pop that gum one more time . . .” And he did. So I took the shotgun off the wall and fired two warning shots . . . into his head.
June: I’m standin’ in the kitchen, carving up a chicken for dinner, minding my own business, when in storms my husband, Wilbur, in a jealous rage. “You’ve been screwing the milkman,” he said. He was crazy, and he kept on screaming, “You’ve been screwing the milkman.” And then he ran into my knife . . . he ran into my knife ten times. There is nothing not to like about Chicago. If you love musicals, you will love Chicago.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
As a former record-setting championship runner, it is normal and natural for me to proclaim “Chariots of Fire” as simply the greatest running movie ever made. What is strange is famed movie critic Roger Ebert’s reaction to this film classic.
“I have no interest in running and am not a partisan in the British class system,” says Ebert. “Then why should I have been so deeply moved by ‘Chariots of Fire’, a British film that has running and class as its subjects? Like many great films, Chariots of Fire takes its nominal subjects as occasions for much larger statements about human nature.”
Ebert is drawn to Chariots of Fire like a bee to honey. He cannot resist the powerful presentation of this true story about two men of principles and integrity that use running as a magnet to attract followers to their cause.
One is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a British man to the core and a Jew whose father is an immigrant and financier from Lithuania. The other is Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a Scot who is the son of missionaries in China. Both have the God-given gift of speed and seek to bring home medals from the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Abrahams feels the sting of discrimination because of his Jewish heritage and runs for the glory of Britain and the acceptance that he believes will make him whole; there is no question he is worthy. Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell) is his close friend and confidant.
“You, Aubrey, are my most complete man,” says Abrahams. “You’re brave, compassionate, kind: a content man. That is your secret, contentment. I am 24 and I’ve never known it. I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.”
Abrahams is driven by his quest for a gold medal in the 100-meter dash. He will let nothing come between him and his goal, even the love of his life Sybil Gordon (Alice Krige). He enters Cambridge University and quickly becomes a campus standout by becoming the first person to successfully run around the Trinity Great Court from the first toll until the clock strikes 12. His competition is Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers) who pushes him to glory.
Abrahams tells his friend Aubrey Montague that he has never been beaten in competition. When he faces Eric Liddell for the first time he loses, and his immaturity surfaces when he declares to Sybil Gordon that “If I can’t win, I won’t run!” Sybil replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”
Fortunately, the famous trainer Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm) is at the race and tells Abrahams he is over striding and points out that over striding is the kiss of death for a sprinter. He reluctantly agrees to coach Abrahams so he can beat Liddell in the 100 meters.
Sam Mussabini tells Abrahams that Liddell is a fast gut runner who digs deep, but reminds him that a short sprint is run on nerves, and then adds that it’s tailor-made for neurotics.
Eric Liddell is more than fast, he is one of the fastest runners anywhere, a fact that is about to be demonstrated to the world in the Olympic games. Liddell is self-assured and confident and unlike, Abrahams, runs for the greater glory of God.
When his missionary sister Jennie Liddell (Cheryl Campbell) fears his focus will be lost on running, Eric replies that “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
In the Olympic games, both Abrahams and Liddell will clash with two very fast Americans, Charles Paddock—the world record holder in the 100 meters—and Jackson Scholz—a 200-meter sprinter.
When Eric Liddell learns that the preliminaries for the 100-meter dash will be run on Sunday, he refuses to compete. When confronted by the British Olympic Committee and Lord Cadogan reprimands him for his impertinence, Liddell replies that “The impertinence lies, sir, with those who seek to influence a man to deny his beliefs!”
At the 11th hour and 59th minute, Lord Andrew Lindsey intervenes with a solution: Since he has already won a bronze medal in the 200-meter race, let Liddell replace him in the 400-meter dash.
Liddell is then seen at church delivering a guest sermon and quotes the Bible prophetically from Isaiah, Chapter 40, Verse 31: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (King James Version).
Chariots of Fire has an unknown cast with spectacular photography and music as well as many running scenes.
Roger Ebert keys in on the musical score, calling it “one of the most remarkable sound tracks of any film” with music by the Greek composer Vangelis. “His compositions . . . are as evocative, and as suited to the material, as the different but also perfectly matched scores (as) ‘Zorba the Greek’.”
Vangelis’ use of an electronic score may have been ill-suited to a period piece like Chariots of Fire, but it worked beyond anyone’s expectations, creating a new style in film scoring. He played all of the instruments, including synthesizers, acoustic piano, battery and percussion.
Against this nostalgic backdrop the movie opens with Lord Andrew Lindsey delivering the eulogy for Harold Abrahams funeral:
“Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honored in their generations and were a glory in their days. We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams. To honor the legend. Now there are just two of us—young Aubrey Montague and myself—who can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.”
From this incredible opening follows the flashback and the narration that recounts the challenges and glory of Great Britain’s athletes at the 1924 Olympic Games. The next scene is the athletes running along the beach to what has become known as the Chariots of Fire theme that would later be released as a single in 1982 and top the charts in the United States.
In the end, Harold Abrahams would win the 100-meter dash, and would also win a silver medal as the opening leg (runner) on the 4×100 relay team. Eric Liddell—the Flying Scotsman—would win the 400-meter dash in an Olympic record 47.6 seconds, and also picked up a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash, won by Jackson Scholz with Charles Paddock second.
Among many poignant moments in Chariots of Fire is Eric Liddell at the starting line of the 400-meter dash and Jackson Scholz, who was not competing in the race, hands him a written note of text from the Bible. The quotation was from 1st Samuel, 2nd Chapter. Verse 30, “Those who honor me I will honor.” Liddell ran the 400 meters with the note in his hand and set an Olympic record.
Abrahams would marry his sweetheart and become the elder statesman of track and field in Britain. Liddell would return to China as a missionary with his physician brother Rob and ultimately be imprisoned during the Chinese-Japanese War in 1942.
Winston Churchill arranged for a prisoner exchange to get Liddell out of the camp (his family had left China before the hostilities started) but Liddell—ever faithful to the end in serving others—gave up his place to a pregnant mother. He died of a brain tumor in 1945, 5 months before the camp was liberated. Even today, 64 years later, he is honored as Scotland’s greatest athlete.
If you have a shred of integrity, principles, ethics, morals, honor, sensitivity or patriotism, you will love Chariots of Fire and be moved by its message.
If you do not, I cannot do anything for you but let you know that Chariots of Fire is more than the greatest running movie ever made, it is also one of the greatest films ever made.
Chariots of Fire, released in 1981, was a British film written by Colin Welland and directed by Hugh Hudson. It would draw moviegoers everywhere by winning 4 Oscars at the Academy Awards for Best Picture (Producer David Puttman), Best Original Screenplay (Colin Welland), Best Original Music Score (Vangelis) and Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero).
Chariots of Fire was also nominated for Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Ian Holm as Sam Mussabini), Best Director (Hugh Hudson) and Best Film Editing (Terry Rawlings). It also had 12 other wins and 15 more nominations, including Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globe Awards.
Chariots of Fire remains among my list of the Top 10 films ever made. It passes my most stringent test of asking myself after seeing a film: Am I a better person for having seen this film? The answer is yes, a thousand times yes!
Even today, 26 years after seeing Chariots of Fire for the first time, I get goose bumps whenever I see it again.
Every time I see it I pull down my Cambridge Factfinder from my library shelf and stare at the 1924 Paris Olympic results. There I see three gold medal winners—Harold Abrahams of Great Britain in the 100-Meter Dash (10.6), Eric Liddell of Great Britain in the 400-Meter Dash (an Olympic record 47.6) and Douglas Lowe of Great Britain in the 800-Meter Run (1:52.4). Lowe was not in Colin Welland’s script.
I think of that glorious time when some few ran with hope in their hearts and wings on their heels.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
Was there ever an actress who combined these four timeless qualities—beauty, fashion, grace and humility—better than Audrey Hepburn? I think not, especially when I see her again in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
Even an actress who could come close (and I can think of none) would in no way match the humility of Audrey Hepburn. We shall not see another like her in our lifetime and by then the film industry may be on the way out when some newer, better technology unknown to us today arrives.
All the more reason to purchase her five most memorable movies in DVD now while they are still available.
First would be her Oscar winning Best Actress performance in Roman Holiday opposite Gregory Peck, which was also her first starring role in an American film.
The next four would be her Best Actress Oscar nominations for “Sabrina”, “The Nun’s Story”, “Wait Until Dark” (one of the two scariest movies I have ever seen) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the Oscar went to Sophia Loren for “Two Women”).
Breakfast at Tiffany’s had two great assets, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, the young New York socialite (we say socialite because this movie was released in 1961, 45 years ago), and Director Blake Edwards, whose deft, sensitive handling of Hepburn’s character (a high-priced prostitute) could not have been done better.
Holly Golightly’s beauty, sense of fashion and pure innocence prohibit me from thinking of her as a woman of the night. She is so inherently stylish. God has not made a woman that could wear clothes better than Audrey Hepburn.
She has Holly Golightly floating around in Givenchy gowns with matchless grace and glamour.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is based on Truman Capote’s novel with the screenplay by George Axelrod, who also garnered an Oscar nomination.
Henry Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) teamed up to win an Oscar for the Original Song “Moon River” while Mancini earned another Oscar as well as a Grammy for Best Musical Score.
The story line has the two romantic interests dependent upon others for financial support, Holly as a lady of the night and Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a wannabe writer who is kept by the married and wealthy Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal). Eventually Holly and Paul experience some personal growth and find love together.
There are matchless moments in this film that find places forever in your heart. One is Hepburn sitting on the fire escape plaintively singing “Moon River,” especially when you remember that the theme of your high school senior prom was Moon River, and that you were with the girl you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. It is a rare opportunity to hear Hepburn sing in the movie.
She recorded singing vocals for her role as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” only to discover that professional “singing double” Marni Nixon had overdubbed all of her songs.
Hepburn was not nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in this film, but her love interest Rex Harrison won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Professor Henry Higgins.
The “little black dress” worn by Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was designed by Givenchy and sold at Christie’s auction this year (2006) for $920,000 with the proceeds going to aid underprivileged children in India. It was not the one worn by Hepburn in the movie.
The only two dresses she wore are now in the Givenchy archives and the Museum of Costume in Madrid, Spain.
In Audrey Hepburn’s performance there are times when we are delighted by sweet innocence in a woman. You cannot imagine how difficult this is to find in today’s world.
Audrey Hepburn became a beauty and fashion icon, and although she did enjoy fashion, she placed little importance on it, preferring casual and comfortable clothes away from the bright lights and cameras.
I do want to give Breakfast at Tiffany’s an Excellent rating but cannot because of too many flaws in the film. I can easily give Audrey Hepburn an Excellent rating for her performance as Holly Golightly.
After 15 years as a highly successful actress Audrey Hepburn chose to lead a quieter life far away from Hollywood. She was married twice, first to actor Mel Ferrer and then to Italian doctor Andrea Dotti and had a son with each.
Hepburn was Belgian by birth and would grow up with her mother in The Netherlands, nearly starving to death during the Nazi occupation in World War II when the Dutch food and fuel supplies were cut off. Tragically, she suffered through watching her uncle and cousin being shot to death for being part of the Resistance movement.
She rose from the horrific atrocities of her youth to find fame and fortune in America and in the last four years of her life (1988 to 1992) became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund).
Only four months before her death from abdominal cancer she went on a mission to Somalia and was devastated to see the nightmare of famine and carnage.
Audrey Hepburn was the picture of beauty, fashion and grace but never for a minute let her success go to her head, and most certainly never led a Hollywood lifestyle of overblown debauchery so much in evidence in moviemaking and Tinseltown today.
See Breakfast at Tiffany’s because Audrey Hepburn became an important contributor to our time and culture. She not only represented the best in professional growth but made her life a legacy with her personal growth. She was a model of grace and humility in a world with little of either.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
Like a lot of shoppers at supermarkets, I look at the magazine displays while waiting in line to check out. Recently I was thrilled to see a recent edition to LIFE’s Great Photographers Series: Remembering Audrey 15 Years Later with photographs by Bob Willoughby.
In my review of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” I posed this question: Was there ever an actress who combined these four timeless qualities—beauty, fashion, grace and humility—better than Audrey Hepburn? My answer was simply, I think not.
You better believe I bought a copy of Remembering Audrey faster than a single heartbeat and remain a better person for having done so.
Willoughby was born in Los Angeles—the city of the stars—and began taking pictures when he was 12. He was good, very good, and best described as a prodigy. In 1953, when he was 26, he would be assigned to photograph an upcoming soon to be actress, Audrey Hepburn. The result of their meeting would produce one of his most positive relationships, both as a photographer and a friend.
Willoughby pioneered the role of the “special” photographer to take formal publicity shots and candids of the stars Hollywood’s publicity departments wanted to promote. He was credited by Popular Photography magazine as the man “who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion-picture still.”
The images that you remember of James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn among dozens of others were mostly the work of Bob Willoughby. All the major magazines of the day—LIFE, Look, Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s Bazaar—published his work
Willoughby’s creations grace the exhibits in more than 500 museums in more than 50 countries around the world.
When first meeting Audrey, Willoughby said, “She took my hand and dazzled me with a smile that God designed to melt mortal men’s hearts.
“The amazing instant contact she always made was a remarkable gift, and I know from talking to others that it was felt by all who met her.”
Audrey had made a big impression with the studio brass in the 1953 William Wyler film “Roman Holiday”. She won an Oscar for Best Actress as Princess Ann in her film debut playing opposite Gregory Peck.
In the next 15 years, she would be nominated for 4 Best Actress Oscars for her work as Sabrina Fairchild in “Sabrina” (1954), Sister Luke in “The Nun’s Story” (1959), Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), and Susy Hendrix in “Wait Until Dark” (1967).
She also won a Golden Globe for Best Drama Actress in Roman Holiday and had an additional 6 Golden Globe nominations as Best Actress. Lesser known is the fact that Audrey was one of the few entertainers to have won an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony Award as well as an Oscar.
Bob Willoughby’s formal and candid photographs of Audrey Hepburn will stand the test of time as some of the greatest ever taken of a woman and an actress. He said that Audrey never took a bad photograph, or even a mediocre one.
“She could sit next to an old ladder on the set and look terrific,” said Willoughby. With designs by Hubert de Givenchy, the world’s most smashing woman wore the world’s most smashing fashions.
She became the most charming, disarming, altogether friendly and charismatic superstar ever to grace a Hollywood production. According to Willoughby, everyone liked Audrey and remained loyal to her. The best directors and the world’s greatest designers sought to work with her.
It was said that all her leading men fell in love with her, including Gregory Peck, William Holden, Anthony Perkins, Rex Harrison and Albert Finney.
When making My Fair Lady Audrey would not be recognized for her role as Eliza Doolittle. She had been promised that she could sing her songs in the film, but Marni Nixon was ultimately contracted to perform Eliza’s vocals.
Julie Andrews had played the role of Eliza in the stage production of the Lerner and Loewe musical, but she lost the role to Audrey in the film. It was perhaps no accident that the Best Actress Oscar that year went to Julie Andrews for her role as Mary Poppins.
My Fair Lady cost $17 million to make in 1964, an astounding investment in its day. It became Warner Brothers highest-grossing film at the time and would go on to earn 12 Oscar nominations and win 8 Oscars. Many film historians consider My Fair Lady to be the last great musical of Hollywood’s studio era.
Audrey would marry twice and have a son by both Mel Ferrer, the actor/director, and Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist. She suffered 4 miscarriages during her 13-year marriage to Mel Ferrer.
In her early life, Audrey’s parents would divorce and her mother took her and her two stepbrothers to London and then to the Netherlands, where her mother was a bona fide Dutch baroness. In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and the horror of war would surround her.
She danced in clandestine locations to raise money for the Dutch Resistance. One of her stepbrothers was sent to a German labor camp, and her uncle and one of her mother’s cousins were shot and killed for participating in the Resistance.
The Germans seized food and fuel when the Netherlands was already suffering a winter famine. Audrey would suffer malnutrition, anemia and frequent bouts of depression. She was 10 years old when World War II started and remained fragile her entire life as a result of her wartime experience.
Some believe her final act in life was her best when she was named UNICEF’s International Goodwill Ambassador in 1988. Audrey would travel around the world on 50+ missions to bring attention to the world’s suffering children. The sight of children dying from hunger in distant lands was devastating; she had once been one of those children and survived.
“I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering,” said Audrey. Despite being terribly ill herself, she continued to go on missions. She would die of colon cancer in 1993, four months before her 64th birthday. When she died, the world lost a great human being.
Bob Willoughby said it best: “She left those who came into contact with her better for having known her. I miss her to this day.” Amen, Bob, amen.
Will Ferrell as a self-absorbed nightly news anchor who falls from grace. This movie is worse than bad, it is terrible beyond belief. There are a couple of laughs in it, but it is the absolute pit to watch. Farrell will never make it as an actor of note with these kinds of roles. The female lead is Christina Applegate (yes, that Christina—Kelly Bundy—of Married With Children), who is now grown and pretty darn attractive in spite of appearing in this awful choice of a movie. We will pray that both Ferrell and Applegate get better roles, although it looks like Ferrell is making a career out of stupid, crummy roles. He certainly has more talent than this movie shows. I would date Applegate, at least once, to see if she had more going for her than just looks; you certainly could not tell by her choice of movie roles.
This 1957 film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and has become one of the classic “romantic” films of all time, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr as two shipboard passengers falling in love as both are “engaged” and headed for marriage.
Female movie buffs gravitate to this film like bees to honey, remembering the scene where the two smitten lovers agree—for their relationship to continue— to meet again in 6 months at the top of the Empire State Building. An accident prevents their fateful meeting, and their relationship appears all but over with no communication.
Every woman in America who has seen this film knows if they ever get back together (this is a romance story, right?), but guys will have to check it out to see. An Affair to Remember was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Music, but none of the nominations were in the 6 major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director).
The big winner in 1957 was The Bridge on the River Kwai, with 8 nominations and 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. Reviews of An Affair to Remember in 1957 ranged from an ideal romance to sensitive to silly. In viewing this film, remember that it was made in 1957, and does not benefit from the technology and production techniques we enjoy today. Also, the word lovers had a totally different meaning in 1957 than it does today.
In An Affair to Remember, Cary and Deborah did not really even enjoy a single passionate kiss on film, much less make it into the sack.
The film is quite refreshing from the sex standpoint, as today the “stars” involved in too many films cannot spend enough time groping and pawing each other in sweaty excitement, with virtually no emotional commitment but plenty of raw physical lust without consequence.
Evidence of just how popular this film is with women especially is the fact that 2 million DVD copies of An Affair to Remember were sold after Sleepless in Seattle was released in 1993, 36 years after the release of An Affair to Remember, that is called staying power (no pun intended). Sleepless in Seattle was a remake of An Affair to Remember (if only for the rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building), which was in turn a remake of the original Love Affair from 1939.
Not to be outdone, Love Affair (the third version) surfaced again in 1994 with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening; unfortunately for Beatty and Bening, the third and latest version did not enjoy nearly the same success as An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
After enjoying unexpected commercial success with “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More”, Italian Director Sergio Leone ends his trilogy of “Spaghetti Westerns” with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.
Amazingly, even at this point in his masterful direction of western movies made in Spain, Leone would not enjoy a nickel’s worth of adulation from the critics as only the Laurel Awards would give a single award to Clint Eastwood for Action Performance, and that was as runner-up.
Hollywood and its stars ignored Sergio Leone just as they have Johnny Depp. They refuse to recognize that even westerns or pirate pictures can be artfully done and have unique acting performances. Clint Eastwood is The Man with No Name, and Johnny Depp is the perfect pirate as Captain Jack Sparrow. There will never be another equal of either in these roles
At least one film director, screenwriter and actor—Quentin Tarantino—has identified Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as “the best-directed film of all time.” It was Tarantino who gave moviegoers “Reservoir Dogs”. “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill (Vol. 1 and Vol.2)” among others.
But back to Leone, who helped write the screenplay with mostly Luciano Vincenzoni. It was Vincenzoni who came up with the premise for the film—three rogues looking for some treasure at the time of the America’s Civil War—and its title.
The triangle of rogues included The Good (Clint Eastwood, a professional gunfighter referred to as “Blondie” in this film who would become The Man With No Name in subsequent western films spun off of his character), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, a self-centered hit man referred to as “Angel Eyes”) and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, a self-centered outlaw referred to as “Tuco”).
Long story short, the plot involves first establishing the three rogues as bona fide killers. Blondie then becomes a pseudo bounty hunter in partnership with Tuco, turning him in for the bounty, rescuing him before he is hanged, and repeating the process until Blondie leaves Tuco in the desert to die. Tuco survives, and lives to find Blondie and return the favor.
As Blondie is about to die while being forced to walk across the desert by Tuco, they are interrupted by an out-of-control, driverless carriage loaded with dead bodies. Except one body, Bill Carson, lives long enough to tell Tuco where $200,000 in gold is buried in exchange for water. While Tuco goes for water, Carson tells Blondie the exact grave in a cemetery where the gold can be found. Suddenly they have a compelling reason to become partners again
Dressed in the Confederate uniforms of the dead men, Tuco takes Blondie, who is near death, to a local Catholic mission run by Tuco’s brother, a priest. Blondie’s recovery goes well, but Tuco’s reconciliation with his brother does not.
Blondie and Tuco leave the mission and end up being captured by Union soldiers and taken to a prison camp where Angel Eyes (now a Union sergeant) takes personal charge of torturing the captives. Angle Eyes is aware of the gold, has his enforcer beat Tuco senseless, and learns the name of the cemetery. He then turns Tuco in for the bounty, frees Blondie (who knows the exact location) and he and his gang of 5 thugs head for the cemetery with Blondie.
Tuco manages to escape on the way to his hanging, turns up in a town the Union forces have bombed silly, and runs smack into Blondie, Angel Eyes and his band of 5. Blondie and Tuco manage to kill all 5 thugs as Angel Eyes escapes, and now all three are headed for the cemetery.
On their way to the cemetery, Blondie and Tuco run into a full-blown Civil War battle over a bridge crossing a river to the cemetery. They witness the continual carnage, blow up the bridge, and then the soldiers from both sides—as well as Blondie and Tuco—move on.
Once in the cemetery, it is inevitable that the three rogues face off in one of the greatest western showdowns ever filmed. The confrontation is full of Leone’s masterful panoramic shots, extreme close-ups and clever sequence of final events. If you have not seen this film, you must, it may be the greatest western film ever made. If you have seen it, you should see it again to better appreciate Sergio Leone’s masterful direction.
There are many great moments in this film. Two of my favorites involved Tuco. In the first, while Tuco is in the bombed-out town, he manages to find a bathtub and take a bath. While doing so, a bounty hunter (remember than Tuco still has a price on his head) confronts him buck naked in the tub.
At the start of the film, the bounty hunter is one of three gunmen who confront Tuco and Tuco shoots all three. The one that confronts Tuco lost his right arm but lived and now shoots with his left arm. He reminds Tuco of his distress and, while doing so, Tuco kills him with his gun that is hidden beneath the bubble bath water. Tuco then utters this memorable line: “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”
The other scene I love is when Tuco walks miles and miles out of the desert and into a town with a gun shop in front of him. After dousing himself in a water trough, he confronts the proprietor, remakes a pistol out of parts from three other pistols, and then steps outside to test the weapon.
He hits three standing figures downrange, turning them sideways, and then fires three shots to cut each in half. Two figures fall immediately and the third remains standing. Tuco takes a mouthful of whiskey, and then jumps and as he lands, the third target falls. This is a guy film, and you really need to be a guy to fully appreciate what I am sharing here. Tuco’s role in this scene helped invent the word cool.
Moviegoers watching this film at the time were not aware that Eli Wallach (Tuco) was nearly killed three times while playing his part.
He was almost poisoned on the set after drinking acid used to burn the bags filled with gold coin so they would rip open easier when struck with a spade. A film technician had poured the acid into a lemon soda bottle and Wallach didn’t know it. He drank a lot of milk and finished the scene with a mouth full of sores.
In another scene where Wallach was about to be hanged while on a horse, the rope was severed by a pistol shot but the frightened horse galloped for almost a mile with Wallach’s hands tied behind him and the noose still taut around his neck.
In a third scene, in order to cut off his handcuffs from his captor, Wallach places his captor on the railroad tracks and waits for a train to come by and break the chain attached to the cuffs. He was within a foot of track and ducks his head to the ground as the train rolls by. The entire film crew and Wallach were unaware that heavy iron steps jutted out from each box car and any of the numerous box cars with iron steps would have decapitated Wallach had he lifted his head.
Wallach would later acknowledge and complain in his autobiography that safety on the set was not one of Leone’s primary concerns in directing the picture.
For the record, Tuco’s full name in the film script was Tuco Benedito Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez
Because Sergio Leone spoke barely any English and Eli Wallach spoke barely any Italian, the two communicated in French. Because an international cast was employed, only Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach spoke in English, and were dubbed in Italian for the debut release in Rome. All other international cast members spoke mostly French or Spanish and were dubbed later. This accounts for the fact that none of the dialogue in the film was completely in sync.
Here are three interesting facts from the film for guys:
1) The cache of gold in the film was $200,000, which does not seem like a lot of money today. However, gold was $20+ an ounce in 1862 and was $628 an ounce in 2006, so the gold was worth more than $6 million in today’s money.
2) In the film, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) used a Colt 1851 cartridge conversion revolver with silver snake grips, and a Winchester 1866 “yellow boy” with ladder elevated sights. Angle Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) used a Remington 1858 Army percussion revolver. Tuco (Eli Wallach) used a Colt 1851 Navy percussion revolver with a lanyard. The soldiers used Gatling guns with drum magazines and Howitzer cannons.
3) Clint Eastwood wore the same poncho without replacement or cleaning during all three of Leone’s spaghetti westerns. In the second film (For a Few Dollars More) you can visibly see that his poncho was mended after being pierced by 7 bullet holes from Ramon’s Winchester in A Fistful of Dollars. The mended area, originally on the left breast, is worn over Eastwood’s right shoulder blade in For a Few Dollars More.
From virtually no acclaim at the time, Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is now regarded as a classic by many critics. It was part of Time’s “100 Greatest Movies” of the last century, and it is one of the few films which enjoy a 100% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com). The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is currently ranked no less than 5th among the Internet Movie Database Top 250, all of which is not too shabby for an Italian guy directing an American Western.
Even master movie critic Roger Ebert gives Leone his just due as an excellent director, and acknowledges two other Sergio Leone films as unquestioned masterpieces—”Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984).
Sergio Leone was born into the cinema. His father was Roberto Roberti (aka Vincenzo Leone), one of Italy’s cinema pioneers, and his mother was actress Bice Valerian. Sergio Leone was born in Rome in 1929 and died in Rome in 1989 from a heart attack. He remains one of the great directors in film history.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
After the unexpected, smashing success of Sergio Leone’s direction in “A Fistful of Dollars” with the newly-found presence of Clint Eastwood as the gunfighter who would become The Man With No Name, Leone ‘s direction in “For a Few Dollars More” was even more successful, artistically and financially.
Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars became the first spaghetti western to receive a major international release, and American males were ready for The Man with No Name, a new, no-nonsense hero that took care of business the old-fashioned way.
In the second of Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy, Clint Eastwood’s role as the loner with a purpose became even better defined as a bounty hunter. Even the prelude to the film declares that “Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared.” The Man With No Name hunted down and killed wanted criminals for money.
Eastwood’s character in the film would be joined by another equally ambitious bounty hunter, Colonel Douglas Mortimer (played by Lee Van Cleef). They will clash and then eventually become partners in their chase to catch El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte who played Ramon Rojo in A Fistful of Dollars). El Indio is a ruthless, intelligent gang leader given to laughing when torturing his victims, and then smoking marijuana (cannabis) to relieve this stress afterward.
El Indio is one bad dude. He is being sought by The Man with No Name for the $10,000 bounty on his head. He is being sought by Colonel Mortimer—an apparent Confederate military officer in the Civil War and the best shooter in the Carolinas—for raping his sister after killing her husband in cold blood. His sister takes El Indio’s gun and commit suicide while he is raping her.
El Indio has his gang on target to relieve the impregnable Bank of El Paso of its “special” safe containing $1 million, and does so despite the trap that The Man with No Name, who has become an insider in Indio’s gang, and Colonel Mortimer have set for Indio. You must see and learn about the special safe, it is too good to give away here.
There are many great moments in this film, but two of them are at the beginning and the end of the film. This first occurs when Colonel Mortimer goes after an outlaw with a price on his head. He interrupts the bad guy while he is in the tub with a prostitute. After sliding a “Wanted” sign under the door of the room, the outlaw dashes to the balcony of the hotel and jumps from the first floor to his horse to make a getaway.
Mortimer crashes the door, assesses the situation, coolly walks downstairs and out the front door, hits a release on the side of his horse which appears to be a blanket but really holds several rifles, picks an appropriate weapon, and calmly shoots the outlaw off of his horse. The outlaw is wounded but stands upright, only to receive a second bullet in his forehead. Male moviegoers thrive on this kind of controlled violence.
The second occurs when El Indio has Colonel Mortimer outfoxed and ready to kill him when The Man with No Name makes their standoff a 3-man face-off by allowing Mortimer to have an equal draw against Indio. Mortimer easily kills Indio and retrieves the watch Indio had taken and held, which showcased a picture of his sister. Mortimer had a watch to match the one Indio had stolen.
Lee Van Cleef (Colonel Mortimer) claimed to be faster on the draw than Clint Eastwood, and in fact he was. Film shows that Lee Van Cleef took exactly 3 frames (one eighth of a second) to draw, cock and fire his weapon.
Director Sergio Leone had originally wanted Lee Marvin for the role of Colonel Douglas Mortimer, but I believe that Lee Van Cleef proved to be an excellent choice for the part.
The final scene is spectacular in its presentation. It is a huge circular area and Leone’s brilliant direction captures the moment with extreme close-up views of the participants, building upon the emotions of fear and the satisfaction of vigilante justice in the process.
Leone’s taciturn characters, precise filming, extreme close-ups and the haunting music of Ennio Morricone all add to making For a Few Dollars More a legend, and one of the classic westerns ever made.
For a Few Dollars More gained even more steam in the United States as it was double-billed with A Fistful of Dollars. For a Few Dollars More was released in 1965, one year after the release of A Fistful of Dollars.
Despite becoming what is now recognized as one of the greatest westerns ever filmed, For a Few Dollars More could not collect a single award. It does not really matter, as Leone’ second spaghetti western keeps being replayed while other award-winners now sit in the can on a shelf.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
Is it possible for an excellent, groundbreaking film in a specific genre to be overlooked at award ceremonies? Absolutely, and a perfect example is “A Fistful of Dollars” that gave rise to what we commonly identify today as “the spaghetti Western”.
A Fistful of Dollars was the first of Director Sergio Leone’s masterpiece trilogy that would be followed by “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. It was Leone who realized that the American-made Westerns of the 1950s had become nothing more or less than housing developments designed with a cookie-cutter pattern of staleness.
Leone’s answer was to shoot the film as if he was orchestrating an opera. The result would become the model for many Westerns to come, featuring his trademark taciturn characters, precise framing, extreme close-ups and the haunting music of Ennio Morricone.
All of this would give rise to “The Man With No Name” (Clint Eastwood), who was originally referred to as “Joe” in A Fistful of Dollars, but became The Man With No Name in the sequels.
I am very boffo on this film and for good reason. The combination of Leone’s direction is excellent given Morricone’s music, the cinematography by Massimo Dallamano and Federico Larraya, film editing by Roberto Cinquini and Alfonso Santacana, and sound by Elio Pacella. A Fistful of Dollars was shot in the Spanish province of Almeria.
Despite its credentials, A Fistful of Dollars would win only one award—the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists’ Silver Ribbon for the Best Score by Ennio Morricone. You could see this film for the musical score alone and come away very impressed.
Released in 1964, A Fistful of Dollars would not make its American debut until 1967. The film’s arrival here was delayed when “Yojimbo” screenwriters Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima sued for breach of copyright and won, receiving 15% of the film’s worldwide gross and exclusive distribution rights for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Kurosawa said later he made more money off this project than he did on Yojimbo, which was released 3 years earlier. The screenplay was written by A. Bonzzoni, Victor Andres Catena and Sergio Leone.
The story is about a gunfighter (Clint Eastwood) who comes to a small border town and offers his services to two rival gangs—the Rojos and the Baxters.
The Rojos include the dangerous Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte), Esteban (Sieghardt Rupp) and Don Benito (Antonio Prieto), Ramon’s girlfriend Marisol (Marianne Koch), Rubio (Benito Stefanelli) and Chico (Mario Brega). The Baxters include John (Wolfgang Lukschy), his wife Consuelo (Margarita Lozano) and a bevy of additional lesser-light banditos on both sides.
The bell-ringer in the film, Juan De Dios (Raf Baldassarre) warns the gunfighter, “you’ll get rich here, or you’ll be killed.” The gunfighter later acknowledges that the “crazy bell-ringer was right, there’s money to be made in a place like this.”
Neither gang is aware of The Man With No Name’s ploy to play one against the other, each thinking they are using him against their rival, but the gunfighter will outwit them both.
Along the way he will personally kill at least 14 of them, get the Rojos to completely obliterate the rest of the Baxter gang, rescue the kidnapped wife and return her to her family so they can safely escape, rescue the innkeeper Silvanito (Jose Calvo), and eliminate Ramon Rojo in a classic showdown worthy of any Western movie every made and too good to share here.
Another actor to watch in this film is Piripero the undertaker (Joseph Egger), who provides the avenue for The Man With No Name’s escape when he is incapable of doing so on his own.
The genius of Sergio Leone is seen in one of the film’s earliest scenes. As the gunfighter rides slowly into town, 3 Baxter gang members fire shots to scare the mule he is riding. After some food and whiskey, the gunfighter confronts his tormentors with this dialog:
“I don’t think it’s nice, you laughin’. You see, my mule don’t like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you’re laughing at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you’re going to, I might convince him that you really didn’t mean it.”
Properly incensed and challenged, 4 key Baxter gang members draw to fire and are cut down in a blink of an eye by The Man With No Name.
While the dialog and action in this scene are excellent, Leone’s direction is even more so and here is why: In American films, when a cowboy was shot, one camera was ALWAYS focused on the shooter and a split second later, another camera cut to the victim. Leone captured the scene with the camera over Eastwood’s shoulder, so the moviegoer could vicariously witness the shooting as if he was doing the shooting.
Leone’s genius was as powerful today—44 years later—as an interactive web site on the Internet, both of which did not exist in 1964. No wonder it is so easy for moviegoers today to experience his genius.
A Fistful of Dollars is too good not to experience. Like so many films that are expected to be nothing and become classics in movie history, the role of The Man With No Name is littered with big names who did not play the role when an unknown like Clint Eastwood did.
This list includes Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Richard Harrison. Harrison would later acknowledge that “maybe my greatest contribution to cinema was not doing A Fistful of Dollars and recommending Clint for the part.”
Eastwood had been in the television series “Rawhide” prior to being tapped for the role. He helped build the character of The Man With No Name by buying black jeans form a sport shop on Hollywood Boulevard, buying the hat he wore from a Santa Monica wardrobe firm, and buying his trademark black cigars from a Beverly Hills store. He cut the cigars into thirds to give them a more distinctive look.
Leone was reportedly taken with Eastwood’s distinctive style, commenting in Italian that “I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two facial expressions: one with the hat, and one without it.”
Like another tremendously successful actor Tom Hanks, Eastwood knew how to instinctively exude enormous charisma that was never evident in his low-key style. Any real man in America would be proud to strap on The Man With No Name’s gun belt and pistol. Is A Fistful of Dollars a guy film? Certainly.
Leone did not direct the first spaghetti western ever made, but his was the first one to receive a major international release, not to mention the fact that it launched Clint Eastwood on an incredibly successful career as one of Hollywood’s most popular, profitable and bankable actors and directors ever.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
(Editor’s Note: Part 2 dealt with A Man’s 5 Basic Tendencies: 1) He believes he is indestructible. 2) He believes his reach should exceed his grasp. 3) He believes he will live forever. 4) He needs someplace to go, something to do and someone to love. 5) Listen carefully to what a man says but watch what he does; what he does is who he is.)
4 Realities in a Man’s World
So men have 5 basic jobs and 5 basic tendencies. Now we must deal with four basic realties about men and world they live in.
1) How Men Are Judged. Our culture and society judge men by one yardstick more than any other: how much money do they make. A man who makes a lot of money is considered successful, even though he may be a lousy husband and father. He has little incentive to be something better.
This happens in part because men in the United States were traditionally perceived as the breadwinners of the family. That notion has long passed as more women need to work alongside their partner to support their family rather than remain home to raise their children.
Day care is everywhere. Too many kids come home and there is no parent in the house. Teens can get into trouble faster than they can turn around. They are also not as safe in today’s world; they are easy targets for predators.
I am told that only 25% of families are traditional in the sense that there is a father and mother who are married with children in the house.
We have as many people who are apparently single, many of whom have live-in boyfriends and other assorted arrangements too numerous to mention. Too many of these “roommates” are bums and leeches who do not even have a job, they sit around all day and try to look smart when they are not causing harm to the children.
It is sad that so many women need what little, misguided attention they get so badly that they will support these jerks and put their children in harms way at the same time.
All of this does exactly nothing to relieve the pressure on the men who do work to produce more money. It also distorts a man’s view of what is important and what is not important. Most men do not live a balanced life; their job or career dominates their life, many times to the exclusion of their marriage and children.
2) A man’s work is his life. This is an extension of the first reality of how a man is judged, but it is also a fact of life.
Men tend to be fixated on their work and view their work as their greatest mission in life; they have been told that their greatest mission is really to love their wife and children and be a good husband and father, but they usually find this injunction easy to ignore. It is much easier for them to treat their wife and children as a necessary duty or afterthought.
If you are foolish enough to think that this is more false than true ask yourself why most married couples spent only 3 to 5 minutes a day actually talking to each other. Hint: It is not because they do not have the time to do so.
3) Men and women are not alike in some obvious ways, but they are also not alike in their basic needs.
Generally, women want security. They want to be provided for financially. This is why they will marry a guy old enough to be their father, or a guy who is not as attractive to them. Women always worry about having enough money, and the older they get without enough money the more they worry about it.
Generally, men want respect and recognition, whether they are financially successful or not. If the woman treats a man like a king and thinks that he made the moon and set the sun in place, the man is not likely to stray very far from home.
If not, he may well become an absent husband and father. This is true whether he is home or not.
4) Women need to understand that a misguided son (not a daughter, but a son) is the responsibility of the father, not the mother.
This is because women cannot always control a willful son whose male ego will not allow him to listen to a woman. It is his father who must set an example for him, and keep him in line.
Too few men know and understand that they cannot be too critical of their son or they will hurt his self-esteem and self-confidence, two qualities every successful, productive man must have to function competitively in society. A man should shower his son with encouragement and positive reinforcement.
Nothing is more distressing to a successful man and former successful athlete than to see a father who coaches his son’s little league baseball team screaming at these youngsters for striking out in a critical situation or making a bad play.
Fathers who coach little league and cuss, scream, yell and berate youngsters are some of the biggest losers. Almost without exception they have been athletes who never did squat and are trying to overcome their shortcomings through their sons.
Do not be deceived by his cussing. Cussing is no more or no less than a sign of a low self-image. If you think listening to a man cussing on a recording is cute and so impressive because he is making a real statement about himself, you are wrong. It is not cute or appropriate at any time, and especially around children. Period. There are no exceptions.
Marry this man and you may live in hell. If he is overly critical of his son he will probably be overly critical of his daughter, his wife, his employer and his next door neighbor. This is a man who needs some professional help; you will not be able to overcome his ignorance.
A man of any age who will get a girl or a woman pregnant and then become absent forever is a lower life form, yet this is what happens all too often.
The reality is that not all men are cut out to be men, it is much easier for some of them to be totally self-centered and self-absorbed. Men who worry about their own happiness more than others lead a very unfulfilled life and pride themselves on their stupidity.
They become easy marks for evildoers and miscreants. Some of them end up in jail, others get killed in a deal gone wrong, but all of them lead miserable lives because they mortgaged their destiny by being irresponsible. They pay a heavy price and are no wiser in the end.
So women, now you know 14 things about men. Use this knowledge to better understand what drives men and why some men can be more interesting than others.
When you start making choices about what you should do with boys and men in the friendship cycle, the dating cycle, the relationship cycle and the marriage cycle, always remember this: listen to what a man has to say very carefully, but watch what he does. What he does is who he is. And that is what you get–who he is, not who he says he is. Do not be fooled, be smart in your choices.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
(Editor’s Note: Part 1 dealt with A Man’s 5 Basic Jobs: 1) Defend his loved ones. 2) Protect his loved ones. 3) Provide for his loved ones. 4) Encourage his loved ones. 5) Lead his loved ones. Part 3 will appear tomorrow.)
A Man’s 5 Basic Tendencies
But, alas, women it is not to be. Here is where your dream world begins to fall apart.
Just as a man has 5 fingers on his right hand there are 5 creative tendencies a man must overcome to live out his life.
1) He believes he is indestructible. I know this is not rational, is silly and difficult to believe, however, it is tied to his ego and allows him to also do the five jobs his analytical mind tells him he must do.
It is because a man can be an extremely competitive creature that he can put his life on the line for his family when defending them and protecting them.
A man, especially when he is younger, can be exciting, dangerous and foolish. He will buy his dream sports car and drive it down the freeway as fast as he can to see how fast he can go, and sometimes with his loved ones in the car.
He will dive off of a 50-foot cliff to see if he can meet the water in the 10-foot space between the rocks below. Sometimes he will accomplish that feat, sometimes he will become paralyzed and sometimes he will kill himself in a fit of bravado.
Generally, somewhere around age 40 or 50 he will work in the yard all day Saturday and be totally stunned when he cannot get out of bed Sunday morning. This is the point in his life when he realizes he is not the man he used to be.
If he uses the brains God gave him he will not continue take risky chances. If he has learned anything from the experience, he will begin to live a more sane life.
2) He believes his reach should exceed his grasp. A man will try to do more than he is physically, mentally and emotionally capable of doing. He will set impossible goals and then prove he cannot achieve them.
He will set no limits on himself. He has an ego. He will work himself to death while ignoring his marriage, his children and the needs of his family, and he will justify this behavior because he can barely get past his third job: provide for his family.
He will justify his behavior in his mind because sometimes he is really escaping a situation at home that he does not want to face. Rather than face the music he is willing to play the music alone and suffer the consequences, generally divorce.
Couples can fight about money and how to raise their children, but when they end up in divorce court it is usually because of a lack of communication. How many times have you heard a woman say he just won’t talk to me?
When your man is not talking to you ladies, that is the first sign that your marriage is in trouble.
3) He believes he will live forever. No kidding. He actually believes he will live forever. It never really occurs to him that he will die someday. He has been told this more than once; he comprehends what is being said, but he really does not believe it.
Women do not share this problem. I expect because they become very aware of just how fragile life is when birthing a newborn.
It generally does not even occur to a man that he will die until he is well past 50. When this realization strikes him, it is like a bolt of lighting. Sometimes it occurs when his father dies, and then he realizes that he is next.
There are things that you will notice when his belief in this matter changes.
He will not leave home when the guys come by to go drinking and watch the game. He will become more aware about who he is with, where he is at and what he is doing. He now realizes that the meter on the taxi is running. He now understands that the alarm has been set on his clock, and it is ticking down.
4) Someone once said that every man needs someplace to go, something to do and someone to love. I believe that they are correct. Think about it.
A man needs someplace to go, this is the explorer in him. A man needs something to do, this is the automatic work ethic in him. He must be at work, or he could be a nuisance at home. A man needs someone to love because he needs acceptance.
You will notice that a woman who loses her husband at age 50 because he has worked himself to death can live another 30 years without a man in her life and be quite content. A man who loses his wife at age 50 will find another woman very soon or he will die, literally.
When a man loses his partner, he will make it his business to find another, and he will not make a career out of it because he already has a career. A man loses his woman and six months or a year later he marries again, usually to someone younger.
Many men do not wait to lose their wife. When they perceive they have lost something in a relationship, they simply dump their wife and find a younger model. I do not have to give women names; they can name on cue the men who have done so, both the famous and the infamous.
5) This is the most salient advice that I can give a woman about men: Listen carefully to what a man says but watch what he does, what he does is who he is. A man will always whisper sweet nothings in a woman’s ear but once he is out of bed he barely notices his conquest.
In today’s world young girls and young women have bought into the media hype that they need to walk around half naked and sleep with any guy if they want to date or have any shot at a relationship. They are being hoodwinked.
Our culture and society has become so liberal, so permissive, so pleasure seeking and so self-centered and self-absorbed that the mantra is all about me. Young girls have Paris Hilton, Britany Spears and Lindsay Lohan as role models.
What young girls and young women need to know is that after young boys and young men have had their way with them they will discard them like they would a hot dog wrapper at a baseball game.
When these same young boys become young men and think about marriage they will not be interested in used goods. Any girl or young woman who has been passed around and has slept with multiple partners will get less attention.
A man who is worth marrying and having children with has learned impulse control and has the ability to feel an urge and delay acting on it. A man who cannot or will not control himself is no better than the girls and young women he is indiscriminately sleeping with.
Someone arbitrarily decided that casual sex does no damage whatsoever to one’s psyche or emotional well being. They are, of course, dead wrong but too immature to realize it and calculate the damage.
Oftentimes when they grow up they are unable to have a lasting relationship and they wonder why. This is true for both men and women. I do not have to postulate about this, the divorce rate, heartache and failed relationships prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
If the fundamental basis of a marriage is great sex, you have a serious problem that is not going to go away. Marriage should be for a long time and great sex at some point may not survive the duties and responsibilities of living.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
Some men say they cannot live with women and they cannot live without women.
I think they mean they do not understand women.
I choose to celebrate women as a necessary and wonderful addition to a man’s world and would rate women as the 4th most important gift from my maker God, who happens to be a man and not a woman.
I choose to not be confused by women who insist that God is a woman and not a man; their lack of perception on this matter is entirely their problem and shall remain so.
Women are God’s 4th most important gift, following the gift of life (1st), the gift of free will (2nd) and the gift of faith (3rd).
Without the gift of life all would be null and void and this explanation meaningless.
Without the gift of free will a man would not be able to make choices and decisions and thus would be rendered useless both to him and her.
Without faith we would not be able to believe in God.
Since women are a necessary and wonderful addition to a man’s world here are 14 things that every woman should know about men.
A Man’s 5 Basic Responsibilities
Just as a man has five fingers on his left hand there are five jobs his analytical mind tells him he must do:
1) Defend his loved ones. A man is the first responder to any unexpected threats to his loved ones. That means putting his life on the line if necessary. He is bigger, stronger and more aggressive than those he loves and will fight dearly to keep them safe.
2) Protect his loved ones. A man protects his loved ones from any perceived threats. He is street smart, he sees trouble coming and keeps his family out of harms way.
3) Provide for his loved ones. A man figures out a way to generate income either working for others or making his own way in the world. He supplies the basic needs for his family—food, shelter, clothing and transportation.
4) Encourage his loved ones. A man must be the lighthouse in stormy times of crisis and challenge. His job is to be stable, sensible, resourceful and ready to encourage his family through tough times. He must put on a brave face and have a big heart when compassion and understanding are needed.
He understands that the way to overcome fear is to take action despite the danger or risk in doing so.
5) Lead his loved ones. A man must be the leader for his loved ones in several critical areas:
Generating Income. He should be the main source of providing for the basic needs of the family.
Handling Discipline. He should realize and act when his loved ones need to toe the mark.
Improving His Knowledge and Skills. He should use education and training to get on in the world.
Developing Spiritual Growth. He needs to recognize a greater power than himself so that when he is no longer there to provide and to comfort his family they are not alone in the world.
Developing Personal Growth. He needs not only the professional growth that education and training can help provide, but he also needs personal growth. He needs to be able to change his thought process, belief system and core being so that he is not the same bigoted person that he was 40 years ago.
Providing Recreational Opportunities. He should provide fun, family activities for his loved ones so the challenge of simply performing our daily responsibilities does not become onerous.
Being a Role Model. He should become a role model for behavior, values, ethics and morals that is worth emulating.
If a man had only his left hand and only lived with his left hand he would indeed be an incredible creature when fulfilling the 5 jobs his analytical mind tells him he must do. Tomorrow you will learn why a man has a right hand, with the 5 fingers signifying his 5 basic tendencies.
(Ed’s Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-Part Series.)
Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley
A friend of mine recently suffered the loss of her father. I bought her a sympathy card and then felt that at such a difficult time in her life it was so inadequate. So I wrote her the following letter and share it with you because I believe my message to her is timeless in a time of need.
My Dearest Mary,
I am sorry to hear about the loss of your father.
Words on a card are so inadequate to express how we feel when describing a tragedy. There is such a sting when our heart breaks from sadness, and we sense that we will never be the same. We seek understanding and sometimes find ourselves alone with our thoughts when we ask: Who could have meant so much to us as the one we have lost?
I find it difficult to accept the notion that death is part of life. One seems so alive and real, and the other so quiet and distant. I would be totally lost in accepting what is so natural and normal were it not for the fact that my life journey is also my faith journey.
Thank goodness that God is in my life. He stands with us at our greatest hour of need. God brings us three vital elements when tragedy strikes our life:
1) He is with us when we are with Him.
2) He loves us and comforts us as no one else can.
3) He takes us to a better place.
I found I could bridge the gap between life and death, and death and life, through my faith walk with understanding and wisdom. Understanding comes from developing a gentle heart, and maturity in living.
Wisdom, however, does not come from learning. One could read every book in every library in the world and still not have wisdom. Wisdom only comes from God, and we must ask Him for it. It is through the grace of God that we enjoy wisdom, He freely gives it to us, but we must ask Him for it.
It has been 11 years since I flew back to Michigan to be a caregiver for my mother during her final days. She displayed such courage and grace when her time to pass had come. It was a beautiful example of modeling at a critical time for both of us.
I was very close to my mother. You have perhaps seen the medal I wear around my neck. Many who see it think that it is a medal of Mary. It is a medal of St. Mildred, an obscure saint who lived in England during the early Middle Ages and died around the year 700.
My mother Mildred was not Catholic, she was Lutheran. She had lived a somewhat turbulent life early on, and had her only two daughters (and my only two sisters) precede her in death. She lived her later life as the very best person she could be.
I wear the medal to honor her, but the truth is that I want her to know that she is in my heart and will always have a special place in my heart.
I believe that God is at work in the world today, and I choose to believe that my mother is as well. When I was a child, I was raised by my grandparents who taught me my prayers in German. When I said the words “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” I wondered how safe I might be.
Today we say the “Holy Spirit” and for years I wondered who or what was the Holy Spirit. Now I understand that the Holy Spirit is manifested in the love we show to one another.
The real heroes of our time are not the rich, the famous, the rock stars, or the professional athletes. The real heroes are the people who reach out to others with loving kindness.
It is an act very similar to integrity, it is what you do in the dark when no one is looking, and especially when you do it without personal gain or glory. My mother was one of those heroes.
I am reminded about what Ralph Waldo Emerson had to say about kindness: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for your never know how soon it will be too late”.
After my mother died I flew back home to Washington and something amazing happened. When I returned to work, I felt her presence about me every day for two weeks. It was as if she was reaching out to comfort me.
It seemed as if by the grace of God she had been lifted up to do His work as a guardian angel here on Earth, and by the grace of God had been given a two-week gift to minister to anyone of her choice before she began her new life.
After 14 days I felt her leave, but I was overcome with the knowledge that God is indeed at work in the world through His minions of believers.
I was immediately reminded of my grandfather and namesake, Edward Louis Baker, a self-taught man of integrity, decency and honesty who lived his life as a happy man, secure in his final destiny.
May God continue to bless you, your father, and your family. You, your father, and your family are in my prayers.