Thursday, January 27, 2011

Skills Squared

Check out the beginning of this clip from The Old American Barn Dance and you'll see how the pros tear up the floor. Dearest Dancing Friends, I'm not near this skill level yet in either my ECD or contredanse experience, but I have a friend who says she's gotten to a certain level in square dancing which requires a mastery of at least 100 calls.

I assure you, we won't be going this fast at the Arizona Barn Dance, but we will be just as lively!

And once you cool off from the dance floor, enjoy Kenny Roberts, The Candy Mountain Girls, Salty Holmes and Johnny Bond.

Let's Get Swinging!

As the Arizona Barn Dance approaches, here's another clip from the 1953 TV series The Old American Barn Dance, featuring Bill Bailey, The Candy Mountain Girls, Pee Wee King... and more!

Hey, Bill! These Here Gals 'R' Singin' 'Bout Ya!

Saturday is We Make History's first-ever Arizona Barn Dance -- just like the Tucson Barn Dance, only in the Phoenix area.

So in tribute, I'm offering a clip or two from another barn dance, the Old American Barn Dance broadcast in 1953.

DeZurik Sisters, take it away:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Unabashed Colonial In Jane Austen's Ballroom

A bit anachronistic in a sea of anachronism, Viscount Christopher attends the Jane Austen Evening in Pasadena, California.

I have never seen so many people in Regency dress gathered in one place. The moment I step into the Pasadena Masonic Lodge transports me into the BBC's Pride & Prejudice, with men wearing long black coats and black breeches with white stockings or regimental uniforms. Every lady is wearing a slender 1800's gown, mostly in pastels and prints or satin or golden trim. I count three brave lads in kilts. I thought about wearing mine this evening before retreating to the comfort of my blue satin jacquard suit with the floral weskit and lace jabot, adorned with my gold trimmed tricorn -- and a yellow ribbon to remember those lost in the Tragedy of Tucson.

The house guidelines advise a wardrobe selection from 1775 into the early 1800's. I am clearly pushing the early limit. Not that anyone minds...

"Sir, could I have your picture?"

I pose in several places for strangers with cameras.

"Did you make this yourself?"

"A lady in Phoenix made this for me. She is extremely talented. You should see the French gowns she made."

"It looks a bit French."

Several are amazed at my travels: "You came from Arizona? Just for this?"

Yes, for this. For something elegant, merry and in tune with the 18th Century gentleman inside of me. For my dearest diversion. And yet butterflies hum within me. Why am I so nervous? I may be among strangers, but I'm no stranger to the dance. What am I afraid of? Rejection? I haven't found it yet -- especially with so many admiring my non-Regency attire, including one of those kilted lads.

A spacious ballroom awaits us. Our players -- two fiddlers, a bass and guitarist -- tune up as I pace the room. I need to find an unattached lady for the opening promenade, if there is one. But our dancing mistress welcomes us by proceeding to the first set dance: "The Spaniard."

Even among strangers, my preferred method for finding a partner has never failed me. I locate a lady who looks like she is wandering about and bow to her. She graciously accepts the invitation and I am glad that the first selection is one I have danced many times before.

The ballroom can barely contain the long lines of couples. Positioned near the end of one of them, my partner and I barely have room to promenade down and back for eight bars. Many of the end couples are content to march in place for however many steps it takes. The dance ends with a chorus of "ahhhs" from the gathered.

"HUZZAH! HUZZAH!" I cry. I am the only one shouting it, just like I am the only one wearing a tricorn, or raising my free hand high during the turns.

I bow to my partner once more. "May I escort you somewhere?"

She is perplexed. "Uh, no. Thank you! I'm good." She wasn't expecting me to live up to the 18th-Century rule of after-dance etiquette.

I find partners for "Mont Hills," "Brighton Waltz," and "Dover Pier," three dances I have never capered but learn quickly. My partners are appreciative. All is well.

As the first set ends, a lady approaches me: "May I be your partner for 'Selina'?" Usually, an 18th Century lady would not ask a gentleman for a dance, but that rule is happily discarded in the recreated ballroom. "Of course, My Lady!" I say with a bow and a doff of my tricorn. I am joyous for the invitation.

Some lemonade revives my body. Perhaps I needed more refreshment in those opening minutes of butterflies. "You look beautiful!" a server remarks. So many people are enthralled with my fashion. I have to wonder, why did they not dress in cheery colonial fashion? Why not gold or cheery pastels instead of those ubiquitous black suits championed by Beau Brummel? This is a ballroom, not a funeral parlor!

Another lady approaches. "You know in the 18th Century ballroom, people didn't wear hats." She means my lone tricorn.

"Maybe in the later 18th Century," I point out in kindness. "But there were also dances designed to be done by men in their hats." If I had more of my wits about me, I could demonstrate formal 18th Century bow where a man removed his tricorn and turned it over to show his partner he was not lame. This lady seems to forget I am not representing a Regency gentleman but a Colonial or Georgian one, a person some would disparagingly call a "fop." Regardless, I decide to doff my headpiece for the next set. One must sacrifice for the ladies.

I dance "Selina" with the partner who invited me before moving on to the "Lasses of Portsmouth." When "Kelsterne Gardens" is announced, our dancing mistress gives a caution: "This is for those who know. Do not attempt this dance if you have not done it in class."

Normally, I would throw caution to the wind and dance it anyway. But this is a group of experienced dancers, and I don't want to deprive others through my mistakes. So I sit it out. It pains me. I resolve, if this Viscount ever holds a ball of his own, no one will be advised to sit out. I would rather have a room full of dancers learning on the floor and laughing away their mistakes than ladies and gentlemen on the sides pining to dance as well as their peers. The ballroom is the great equalizer, and if it isn't, it should be.

I seek another partner for the "Rakes of Rochester" and find a novice lady. She is mildly uneasy about her skills. "My Lady, do not fret!" I say. This particular dance involves a move called a "twinkle," a showy figure where a lady and gentleman open wide in a showy gesture after a sashay down a set -- my kind of dance.

I lead her through it and she picks it up readily: a corner turn, a couple turn. The sashay and the "twinkle." A sashay back and a cast down the set. Four changes of rights and lefts. I can see her smiling. My free hand is raised as I turn her and the other ladies. "Affectations are encouraged," I say to those around me. "Let your light shine through." Remarkably, some do.

"I'm so glad I found you!" she exclaims after the dance. "You made my whole evening!"

A waltz is announced, and she invites me to dance with a young lady friend she has invited along. We begin in the usual way, in the usual waltz position, but I feel a desire to take things to a more elegant level.

"My Lady," I tell her, "there is a dance I do, a sort of waltz-minuet where I call the steps. If you like, I can show you. But if at any time you are uncomfortable, just say the word, and I shall halt. Would you like to try?"


So I lead her the minuet of my making -- a wide turn by right hands, then by left, then a step away from one another, then close to each other. I softly call the next step or use a hand gesture. She follows me perfectly, like she has been dancing it all her life. People are turning to watch us. People are taking pictures and videos. We are having an immensely fine time, lost in the elegance and beauty of the dance. We step forward, we side, we turn in place. When the dance ends, we honour each other regally, as we had been dancing for the Queen.

The friend who has brought her here is beyond words. We converse and I find she is a pastor in Long Beach. "This brought me back to GOD," I happily tell her, as I recount for her my testimony.

If I had any doubt about whether I belonged here or not, those doubts are gone. "FATHER IN HEAVEN," I prayed before I entered the ballroom, "help me to remember what I'm here to do." Giving comfort and joy on the dance floor is part of my life's mission. I pray that I might inspire others as I have been inspired, and when that happens, it is a gift from GOD, another answered prayer, another affirmation of love from above.

"Sion House" follows, and I convince myself I can handle "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot," even though the advanced dance it is a different version than the one I have previously learned.

Video by "PrincessSolitare"

I pick it up on the floor, and I thank my partner for her patience before escorting her back to the side. Another lady is beckoning me as she sees us in transit. "I shall be with you in a moment," I smile to her. She understands completely.

"Yes, it was always customary to escort a lady off," she smiles, grateful that some people haven't forgotten all the social graces. We dance "Irish Lamentation" together, although I cannot understand what is so lamentable about a dance with so much joining of hands and stately figures.

Our players offer a final free waltz before the evening concludes. My pastor partner from a few dances ago asks me to minuet with her, and I heartily do, uplifting her spirits once more.

Of the 18 dances in the evening, I dance 16, a good score on any dance card. I lose myself in the "Duke Of Kent's Waltz," a favourite of mine, before the evening ends with "Sir Roger de Coverley," better known as a Virginia Reel without the reeling part. A boisterous dancing master calls it out in a hefty voice.

"Take off your hat, sir!" he bellows to a gentleman in a stovepipe across the room. "It's that kind of a dance."

I tell the ladies I've danced a 30-minute Virginia Reel before. They can't believe it. Well, this is an English ballroom, not a Virginia one.

"Please say your farewells," the dance master hollers. "You don't have to leave, but you can't stay here!"

I fetch my modern-day carriage from the modern-day carriage house across the street before the attendants lock it in for the night. I park it in a safe place and scurry back inside to offer goodbyes where I can. I'm not sure if people are heading to an after-party, or whether there is one, but it seems like no such soiree is taking place.

However, I offer to escort an unaccompanied lady to her car for safety and chivalry's sake. She and I have danced together earlier in the evening. As we discuss our lives and our love of dance, she learns I am from Tucson and that I am seeking a refuge from sorrow in my hometown, even as I enjoy my dearest diversion.

"News people don't come from another planet," I explain. "We hurt too."

She is not sure where she has left her car, so we have plenty of time to share as I accompany her up and down the street until she is confident she is in the right place and can continue on without me. I bow to her one more time before we part.

"You'll all heal," she reassures me.

"Yes, I know," I reply. "Romans 8:28."

Friday, January 21, 2011

There's Something About An 18th Century Man

Dearest Ladies, be honest -- how many of you have at one time dreamed of a man who carries himself well, defends your honour, holds your hand daintily, and dances with you -- all while wearing knee breeches?

Very well, maybe you haven't. But maybe you will, after you watch this:

If you aren't inspired by that, maybe you need another dose:

Dance On, My Friends! See you at the Jane Austen Evening!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't You Dare Call It Square

Dearest Dancing Friends, what you in the 21st Century would call a square dance was once called a quadrille or a cotillion. It is a beautiful thing to watch, as this group from the Grand Napoleonic Ball in Florence demonstrates in HD:

Getting people to "slip" in a circle together, in time and in rhythm, is quite an accomplishment in itself.

You might scoff at the French, but they have some intricate and beautiful contredanses, like this one, also from Florence in HD:

And from Vienna comes the waltz, which was just catching on in the early 1800's. The proximity of the dancers and the way they held each other caused quite a stir. Gasp! What are they doing! Yet our group from Florence has avoided these issues:

This doesn't really look like a waltz at all, but more like a contredanse. Oh who cares... My Lady, may I honour you with this dance...

Room To Move

Dearest Dancing Friends, one didn't need a ballroom to dance in the 18th Century. A parlor would do nicely for most intimate gatherings. But for a grand ball like the upcoming Jane Austen Evening, bigger is most certainly better.

Here's a happy assembly in Bath with room to maneuver:

And a dance from the Jane Austen Festival with even more space, presented in HD:

Just watching these people cavort lifts my heart. But soon I will be dancing again among fine ladies and gentlemen! I'm so ready...

Dance On, My Friends!

Consent To Search

Somewhere in Riverside County, California, a sheriff's deputy is wondering why his instincts led him to a pair of buckled shoes and a haversack.

He pulled me over on Interstate 10 near the Morongo Casino this morning as I was driving to my parents' home in Upland, a run I've made at least a dozen times without trouble. I saw the lights on the unmarked squad car in my rear-view mirror and groaned as I pulled over. It has been at least 9 years since my last speeding ticket.

"Hi there," the deputy said after I rolled down the passenger side window. I expected his next statement to be, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Instead, he said, "You were kinda weaving around back there. I know the wind's blowing hard, but I'm able to keep my car on the road."

Obviously this lawman never drove a Kia Rio. When crosswinds kick up, the low-profile, lightweight car becomes a frigate caught in a storm requiring both hands on the wheel and braking to control. Santa Ana winds can force the car into another freeway lane without a series of hard steering corrections. I didn't argue about it.

"Where are you headed to today?"

"Upland, California from Arizona."

"Can I see your license and registration?"

I pulled the Arizona credentials out of my wallet. "My registration is in the glove compartment. Can I open it?" It's always better to ask before acting, I've heard. The last thing a patrol officer wants is a sudden move.

"Do you have any weapons?"


"Can you step out for me? Watch out for this traffic."

I got out carefully and stepped into the safe area in front of his patrol car but off to the side of mine. He's been trained well; I know he wants me out of the "kill zone," an area where too many officers have been injured in the line of duty. I also know I fit the profile: white, male, traveling alone, looking a little nervous, dressed in shorts on a chilly morning, driving with questionable items in the back seat like a gold-trimmed tricorn hat.

He studied my license. "Where are you coming from?"


"I'm gonna let you off with a warning," he determined, to my relief. "You ever been arrested?"


"I'm gonna check you for warrants."

He radioed my information in. But his detective instinct wasn't satisfied just yet. "You carrying any weapons on you?" he asked again.


"Mind if I search you?"

"Go ahead."

He gave me a pat-down. This is the part where some of my friends would start to grumble about intrusive investigations, but I know where this is going. He thinks I'm either doing drugs or running them. The only drug in my body right now is too much hot chocolate from the Flying J back in Ehrenberg. He's looking for inconsistent answers, and I know from all the stories I've written on drug busts that inconsistency is a dead giveaway. I don't mind his hands on my tush. I'm just glad to get off with a warning.

"How long are you gonna be in Upland?"

"Two to three days."

"What are you doing there?"

"Staying with my parents."

"You do that a lot?"


"Can I take a look inside your car?"


I hand the deputy my keys and he goes through my back seat. Then he turns to the trunk. As I stand by the side of the road, smiling and clutching my t-shirted chest in the cold, he unzips a blue canvas bag I'm hauling. Inside of that bag is my Colonial haversack and two pairs of shoes, one with pewter buckles.

Beat cops have a saying: "There's no such thing as a routine traffic stop." I don't know what he's thinking, but maybe he's wondering whether he's dealing with a road tripper or a time traveler. I know he's seen the tricorn. If he unzips the beige garment sack, he'll see a satin-blue 18th Century coat and breeches, a puffy shirt, and a flowered weskit along with a lace jabot and long white stockings, all to be worn for an 18th Century ball in Pasadena this weekend. But his search ends and he asks no further questions.

My records check comes back clean. The deputy nearly forgets to hand me back my license as he releases me without another caution to drive safely. I get back in the car, put all my papers back in their place, belt up and slowly roll back onto the road with the lawman following me out. I say a prayer for him as I watch him pull past me.

A few miles down the road, I see him make another traffic stop. Better luck next time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ewwww, A Dancing Bug?

Dearest Dancing Friends, in the 18th Century, it was thought that a bite from a maggot spurred creativity. Thus some dances have the word "maggot" attached, like this one made famous in Pride & Prejudice: Mr. Beveridge's Maggot.

The preceding come from a previous Jane Austen Evening in Pasadena, like the one I'm bound for this weekend. Technically, it's a dance intended "for those who know," but that doesn't stop people from trying it. I learned it last summer for another ball, and I think I can remember enough of it to make do with light prompting. Either that, or I can rehearse with an invisible partner.

Here's a variation with more of a Renaissance feel:

But here's my favorite rendition, performed by some elegant Russians:

Peter The Great would've been proud.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Come Haste To The Wedding

Dearest Dancing Friends, some people dream of a fairytale wedding. But how about a Regency wedding?

Consider this one from the 2009 Jane Austen festival in Bath:

I am one of those people who isn't afraid to venture out into the modern world wearing Colonial fashion. Amazingly, though, I'm surprised at how few people actually bat an eye to the anachronism.

No matter. Let us get back to the dancing. Staying in Bath, I invite you to feast your eyes upon the local minuet company:

Elegant. Refined. If you can dream it, you can dance it!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Start With Something Fancy

Dearest Dancing Friends, a quite exciting opportunity is before me. This coming weekend I shall be attending the Jane Austen Evening in Pasadena, California. This is a highly popular Regency ball, so popular it sells out at least a month in advance with a sizable waiting list to get in. I reserved my spot back in November. So in anticipation and celebration, I'll be offering some tastes of what's to come.

Most 18th Century balls began with the fancy dances first, like the minuet. Here's an example from a Napoleonic Ball held last year in Italy:

Truth be told, the minuet was on its way out during Napoleon's time, and the waltz was gaining popularity even if it was a bit... er... scandalous. Notice how the couple dancing moves about one another, taking hands only occasionally.

I used to think a minuet was only an elaborate procession dance where a gentleman led a lady in a stately manner -- like this:

Here's another minuet from some 18th Century Italian friends:

To my eyes, this resembles an English country dance from the way the couples stand at first and the patterns they form. Let's not quibble though, as we proceed to one of my favorites, as demonstrated on film by Marie Antoinette:

This comes pretty close to the dance of my dreams: dressed in my 18th Century finest (although I would prefer a tricorn to a powdered wig), taking hands with a lady I love immensely, and turning about in a ballroom full of our friends, all dressed in period clothing, all to a full orchestra. My dear friend Madame and I have improvised beautiful dances similar to this one. We call it "our minuet." She once dreamed we danced this exquisite Renaissance dance in full regalia. I think she was more than dreaming.

Dance on, my friends!

Eat, Drink, And Make Deadline

The chaos and wear of covering a gigantic breaking news story like the Tucson shootings for days on end is not without a few lighter moments. For instance, we at KOLD News 13 had food delivered to us all last week. We've eaten everything on the menu: Mexican, Chinese, pizza, sandwiches, salads, hot wings and more. Feed your staff and they'll keep on running like Energizer bunnies. The station picked up the tab for some of it. Other meals came as a thank-you from the networks for helping them get on top of the story when it started breaking.

On the night of the shootings, I took a call from a Mama Rosa's delivery guy who said he was in the parking lot with some pizzas for us, courtesy of CNN. With the rest of the fully-staffed newsroom busy on other things, I volunteered to let the guy and his food in. I slipped to the back door, expecting things would go quickly: five or six boxes and we're done.

When he started unloading in the night, however, I soon found out the folks in Atlanta had sent us over a smorgasbord. It started with at least four gigantic pizza boxes. Then came two or three containers of salad. We walked in four bags full of utensils and seasonings, then two trays of pasta, wrapping up with two cheesecakes. The feast covered the entire length of the news conference room table and two chairs. We shoved old pizza boxes out of the way to make room for the fresh food.

They loved us at the network. They really, really loved us. Someone asked what the tab was out of curiosity. The delivery guy couldn't remember. He wasn't asked to collect anything, and he hadn't been in on the order before driving it out to us. Needless to say, we all ate well that night, as well as we could between live shots and writing and phone calls and editing. Enough feast lasted for the morning crew, who put together a special Sunday AM show as Tucsonans were rising and heading to church in prayer for the living and the dead.

It's unfortunate that such gifts are borne of such tragedy, yet it also shows generosity isn't dead. We would see it many times in the days ahead -- this time from Tucsonans as the community came together. We knew about Tucson's giving reputation long before the gunfire. We hope it will take stronger root now.

Reel To Reel: The King's Speech

GOD save the king... and his tongue.

Going Rate: Worth full price.
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon
Rated: R (but may be okay for children 13 and older)
Red Flags: Two scenes of fleeting, meaningless swearing in the context of speech therapy -- here is a classic example of the MPAA ignoring the context of a film in favor of precedent, meaning the f-word automatically triggers an "R" rating. I would've put this film at PG-13.

If somebody told Prince Albert to visualize the throngs of people before him naked before giving a speech, it didn't work. Neither did the cigarettes. Or the marbles-in-mouth therapy. The future King George VI is facing the prospects of leading his nation through another war with Germany with a mouth fit for Porky Pig. "B-B-Bertie," a sibling once mocked him. Still, inside is this strong and principled monarch, if he can only find his voice.

The King's Speech opens with a heartbreaking contrast that magnifies the problem. Following an introduction by a pitch-perfect BBC announcer, Prince Albert (Firth) gives a stammering address to the 1925 Commonwealth Exhibition. Syllables of butchered words echo back to him over a PA as they float around the world over "wireless." Exasperated by a string of failures to cure him, Princess Elizabeth (Carter) turns to unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush). He is not intimidated by His Majesty's rank -- "My castle, my rules" -- and he insists on putting "Bertie" through a battery of physical and linguistic exercises to let the royal words flow freely.

We begin to see that the cause of the prince's impediment isn't some neurological fault. He has lived in the uncomfortable shadow of his Royal Father, King George V (Gambon), now a lion in winter who thinks he can verbally abuse the hesitations out his son: "Out with it!" Albert's older brother Edward (Pearce) is more interested in a twice-divorced commoner than the throne, leaving the younger sibling uneasy about taking charge of a nation before he's ready.

Firth's character relates to us so well because he doesn't carry himself in a regal manner. This is not a person who uses the Royal "We," even though he's surrounded by all the trappings of the Royal Family. I like how this movie submerges us into the life, right down to the colorful footmen who are still wearing long red coats, knee breeches and stockings in 1930's London. Logue is kind of the person whom Albert wants to be, confident and daring. He has the most evident courage of anyone in the film.

The King's Speech is a remarkably inspirational film about overcoming disability, reinforcing the wisdom of great leaders who aren't ashamed to ask for help. It would be a great family film if it weren't for two scenes of therapeutic cussing. I fully expect those to be neatly trimmed when the film makes it to broadcast TV.

As a child, I had trouble with a muffled "th" and a lisp that made my "south" into "thouf." Orthodontics eventually corrected both problems. If only it were that easy for everyone, so that would could give the kind of address King George VI gives to prepare his nation for another world war:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Healing Begins

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I walked out of Black Swan, a tremendously creepy film, got into my car, and flipped on the radio. Instead of hearing the computer guys on 104.1 FM, I heard the news of a mass shooting in Tucson... and then I heard Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was one of the victims. I sped off to get to KOLD.

Since then, my life has revolved around news updates. It has been a mixture of highs and lows and grind and respite. It is like another 9/11, but with Ground Zero in our own backyard, at a shopping center on the northwest side. I know the scale of these two tragedies don't match up, but emotionally, they can be just as devastating.

While the rest of the country moves on to "other news," we'll continue to follow all the developments here in Tucson and do our best to help everyone heal and move forward. The developments surrounding Congresswoman Giffords have been miraculous so far. Please continue to pray for her as well as all the other victims and their families. Please pray for those in the news business covering this as well. We'll get through this together with GOD's help. Remember Romans 8:28.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reel To Reel: True Grit (2010)

There will be vengeance.

Going Rate: Worth full price.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Western gunslinging and a few bloody scenes of violence

Years from now, people will debate which version of True Grit is better: the John Wayne classic or this emerging classic from Joel and Ethan Coen, that versatile film-making brotherhood who can succeed in nearly every genre they touch. They know all the ingredients of an epic Western: strong characters, strong morals, great gunfights and great cinematography.

For those who need a plot summary: Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is seeking someone to track down Tom Cheney (Brolin), the man who shot her father and left him to die outside a hotel before fleeing into Indian territory. Ross, a tenacious and stubborn farm girl, seeks the aid of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). The marshal has "true grit" in Mattie's eyes, but he also has issues with drinking and sloth. It's hard to figure how such a man could garner a tough reputation, but Mattie is convinced when she watches Cogburn testify at a trial for one of the men he brought in. She hires Cogburn to go after Cheney, but insists on going along for the chase. The partnership is complicated by a Texas Ranger, LaBeouf (Damon), who wants Cheney to stand trial in the Lone Star State instead of hanging in Arkansas.

I will admit to you that I haven't seen the John Wayne version, but I can serenely surmise the Coens' take is grittier than the first Grit, starting with Bridges' rumpled and endearing version of Cogburn. You can almost smell him through the celluloid as he looks more like a homeless man than a lawman. John Wayne could be endearing and tough, but not convincingly loutish.

As for toughness, neither one holds a candle to Steinfeld's strong-willed and deeply moral characterization of Mattie. "You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another," she says. "There is nothing free except the grace of GOD." A scene where she bargains for money from a stable master is a classic in how to write dialogue with both wit and tension. If she doesn't get an Oscar nod from this breakthrough role, somebody at the Academy needs to be "taken out and whupped," as they said in the Old West. Ditto for Bridges.

Speaking of Old West speech, I doubt you'll find many films that come closer than this one in styling dialogue to true 1800's vocabulary. It's laced with an anachronistic formality where people ask, "What are your intentions?" or "Is that not the bargain?" It sounds more Shakespearean than Western. I just had a flashback to Robin Williams mocking The Bard in Dead Poets' Society via a John Wayne imitation: "Is that a dagger I see before thee?"

True Grit depends heavily on the chemistry among Cogburn, Ross and LaBeouf. Here are three people sharing a common agenda but with different endgames in mind. They are all mutually repulsed by each other and yet mutually dependent on the others. "You give out very little sugar with your pronouncements," LaBeouf says to Mattie in one scene. "While I sat there watchin' I gave some thought to stealin' a kiss... though you are very young, and sick... and unattractive to boot. But now I have a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt." Now that pretty well sums it up.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Prayers For 2011

As 2011 rolled in, your humble servant was at Joe's Cafe in Santa Barbara, surrounded by strangers... and in a full kilt. With the exception of the kilt, New Years' Eve hadn't quite gone like I had wanted. After a full day of walking and shopping, the Queen Mother and Royal Father were a little too tired for a night of revelry -- not that they're party people, anyway. Neither am I, unless it's a dance. About the only dancing I did that night was showing a lady a few 18th Century dance steps in one of the cafe's few open spots.

Good thing 2011 has 365 days, plenty of time to do better. I'm praying others can, too.
  • I'm already hearing word on the street that the 2012 campaign season is already underway. We just entered what's supposed to be an "off year." Can we please just leave it that way? I ingested enough campaign advertising last year to make me nauseous, and I would like to do my stomach a few favors.

  • I'm praying when we get out of this recession, we don't forget the lessons a decade down the line when somebody decides not enough of us own homes.

  • We will see a number of events this year in remembrance of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. We've already seen one, the Secession Ball in South Carolina, tainted by allegations of racism. I pray that as we revisit this dark chapter in our past, we take the opportunity to point out how much this nation has grown in collective maturity and recognition of equality. We've still got work to do, but we're better now than we were 150 years ago.

    Undoubtedly, we will see other balls as part of the remembrance. The group I'm with is sponsoring one. A lot of people think we should not be marking rebellion, disloyalty and bloodshed with period dances. It's a fair argument, but I believe you can revive the elegant and honourable parts of our history while still recognizing and understanding the parts best left aside. The Society for Creative Anachronism has a saying: "We recreate the past not as it was, but as we would have liked it to have been." It's not often you get a do-over, and this is a chance to reconnect with social graces of the past even as we make amends for it. You won't be seeing slaves serving food at any of these balls, nor will you hear people extol the oppression another race. You will not see signs outside that say, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody."

    Prejudice comes in many forms. Putting on a hoopskirt doesn't make you a racist, nor does wearing a Confederate uniform. I pray 2011 becomes a teaching moment in that regard. So far, I have not seen any of my friends labeled unreconstructed Southerners, bigots, or some other ignorant epithet. I want it to stay that way.

  • Children, can you talk a little more and text a little less? Imagine if your human interactions were as broad as your electronic ones. Think of how much better your life would be. Think of what you wouldn't say. I see people steaming off comments to wall posts they wouldn't dare utter face-to-face.

    For years, much of my social interactions were online. I pray you'll wake up to the truth of all this.

  • I pray our political parties will recognize the false gods they've created. Power and the lust for it are your golden calves, as is placing ideology over truth. Notice I said parties -- with an s. Instead of thinking GOD is on your side, why not work at being on GOD's side?

  • I pray we find a workable solution to our health care issues without working ourselves up towards a heart attack. Ditto for immigration. A lot of you all don't care for the let's-disagree-without-being-disagreeable mantra, but I do, and I refuse to let somebody call it a load of liberal bilge.

  • Finally, I know this is a bit selfish, but I pray I might be a light for others. I can't objectively tell you if I have or haven't so far. Only GOD knows for sure.