Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Actor’s Improvised Scenes

I’m not an actor but I do appreciate the craft. Part of that reason lies in the fact that I love movies and TV shows. I’m just a fan of Pop Culture in general. I’m the nerdy guy that always watches the extra footage, ‘behind the scenes’, and ‘the making ofs’ of movies and TV shows. Since I’m one of those people that tries to be funny off-the-cuff; I find the improved scenes and lines of movies to be extremely interesting. So many directors allow their actors to make suggestions to the scene or just give them suggestions of how to go about their scene; which can lead to some amazing footage. Sometimes those improvised scenes or lines become more infamous than the movie or TV show itself. Take for instance what would have been my number 13 choice; Dustin Hoffman’s off-the-cuff improvisation of the line “I’m walking Here!” while walking across the street full of actual New York City traffic for the 1969 classic Midnight Cowboy. Director John Schlesinger loved the improvised line so much that he kept it in the movie, and thusly becoming one of the movies most memorable scenes. Much like the improvised quote by Michael Madsen in the torture scene in Quentin Tarantino’s infamous cult classic Reservoir Dogs, “You hear that?” Mr. Blonde, what you hear are my choices for the Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Actor’s Improvised Scenes. Hopefully by the end of this blog I’ll be able to confidently ask “Do I amuse you?” just like Joe Pesci did in the scene from The Goodfella’s where he improved the line for the quick-tempered enforcer.  And much like Roy Scheider’s off-script line, “you’re going to need a bigger boat,” in the 1975 classic movie Jaws, I need a bigger list!



Honorable Mentions:

Good Will Hunting (1997) – “Farting Wife Story”

A movie which shows the life struggles of reluctant genius Will Hunting (played by a young Matt Damon), the scene I am referring to is now just as infamous than the Academy Award winning movie itself. Hunting is in a session with his therapist (played by Robin Williams), and is as always reluctant to open up about his life. So therapist Sean Maguire beings to tell him a personal story about his late wife to help bridge the gap. The story about his late wife’s sleep flatulence was improvised at the moment by Robin Williams. Damon’s genuine belly laugh is matched by the laughter of the cameraman whom you can clearly see is laughing so hard that he shakes the camera during the filming of the scene. Williams dramatic portrayal of the therapist earned him his only Academy Award but his time on the comedy stage which allowed him to improvise this scene caused him to be on my list.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) – “Singing in the Rain”

Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel “A Clockwork Orange” had many controversial scenes. The book/movie centers around a teenager whose love for ‘ultraviolence’ finally catches up with him. One scene in particular, Alex (played by legendary actor Malcolm McDowell) and his miscreants break into a house and assault and rape a woman. Stanley Kubrick did not like the scene was turning out during filming, so he just tells McDowell to “(J)ust do whatever you want.” In the next take, McDowell breaks out in to a creepily happy version of “Singing in the Rain” while physically and sexually assaulting the woman. The take was used in the film and thusly helped reveal the truly sadistic side of Alex.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Sword vs Gun scene

I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t at least heard of Indiana Jones. But did you know that one of the most infamous scenes from Raiders of The Lost Ark improvised? The scene is a wild chase in the Cairo market streets, and Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) runs into a crowded market. The crowd separates to reveal a black-robed warrior wielding a huge sharp sword. After the warrior intimidatingly swings the sword around, Jones puts away his trusty whip and shoots the guy. It’s ruthless but it most definitely plays into his character. The scene had been rehearsed for weeks with Jones and the black-robed warrior having an elaborate whip vs sword fight. Well Harrison Ford got food poisoning, so he went to Steven Spielberg and decided to improvise. The scene became so infamous that I’m sure even Ford himself is okay with the food poisoning he endured the night before shooting that scene.


10. Dumb and Dumber (1994) – “Most Annoying Sound in the World”

Yes its dumb….but no one can deny Dumb and Dumber‘s influence on the comedy landscape. When Dumb and Dumber hit the big screen in 1994, one scene in particular has stuck in the minds of fans ever since; but would you ever imagine that this scene was completely improvised. The script just called for the duo (made up of Lloyd  played by Jim Carrey and Harry played by Jeff Daniels) to argue about jelly beans while the hitchhiker (who is actually a hitman sent to kill them) sat between them got more and more agitated. During the improvised scene, the two of them horse around until the hitman loses his cool and yells “Enough!” Thankfully for him there is a moment of calm until Lloyd breaks the silence and asks, “Hey wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” Then he proceeds to squeal as loud as possible in his ear. This improved scene is successfully one of the most memorable comedic scenes (to me) of all time.

9. Star Wars – Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – “I love you…I know”

Han Solo is cocky. To be the best pilot in the universe, you have to be. In an effort to continue the tough guy image that Harrison Ford had perfected in his Han Solo character, he Ford argued on a line in one of the more touching scenes of the movie. When Solo was supposed to show his more sensitive side and say “I love you too” in response to his Princess Leia; George Lucas told Ford to just say what he thought was best for the character. So his response to her “I love you” was…”I know”. The response meant more than it let on but it fit perfectly with his character’s cocky persona.

8. Caddyshack (1980) – “The Cinderella Story”

Bill Murray, who is to me one of the funniest human beings on the planet, created one of the best and most quoted scenes from Caddyshack. The scene; which consisted of the dimwitted groundskeeper Carl Spackler (played by Murray) mutters off a story to himself where he, an unknown golfer, wins the Masters golf tournament. Murray said in his 1999 book Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf, that “The Cinderella Story” was a spur-of-the-moment idea. ‘Get me some flowers.’ I said. ‘Four rows of mums.'” After the mums were planted and the cameras started rolling, he ad-libbed the “Cinderalla Story” and demolishes the mums golf swing by golf swing. It truly is comedy gold.

7. The Dark Knight (2008) – The Slow Clap

In what is arguably Heath Ledger’s greatest performance, his version of the villainous Joker is brilliant. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is comic book movie gold but Ledger’s performance as The Joker pushes the bounds of perfection. In this particular scene, The Joker (whom Ledger had completely embedded himself into the character) waits in a solitary holding cell in the middle of the police headquarters after being arrested. Mayor Garcia (played by Nestor Carbonell) announces the promotion of Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman) to the position of Police Commissioner. As the officers in the room applaud, The Joker begins (unscripted) to slowly clap while keeping the same maniacal facial expression. The result was a dark and extremely unsettling set up for the rest of the scene. This simple improvisation deserves more than a slow clap itself…it deserves the posthumous Oscar that Ledger received for his performance as The Joker.

6. Forrest Gump (1994) – “My name’s Forrest Gump.”

Okay, so Forrest Gump is full of famous one-liners but one of the most quotable was an off-the-cuff improvisation by Tom Hanks. The scene shows Forrest introducing himself to another character, Bubba. Bubba says upon inviting Forrest to sit with him, “My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue, but people call me Bubba. Just like one of them ol’ redneck boys. Can you believe that?” Tom Hanks improves a line which fits perfectly when he responses with, “My name’s Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.” The simple showcase of this man’s sincere yet simple mind is as beautiful as it is funny. It is the beginning of a relationship that would impact Forrest forever and the improvised line would be one of the most quotable lines in all of cinematic history.

5. Taxi Driver (1976) – “You talking to me?”

The phrase, “You talking to me?” has become a cultural phenomenon. People are using the quote in that context without realizing that it comes from the 1976 cult classic Taxi Driver. The movie follows the taxi driver himself, Travis Bickle (played by legendary actor Robert De Niro) and showcases how his mentally spiraling out of control. In a specifically creepy neurotic and sociopathic episode, Bickle is shown talking to himself in the mirror. The original script only called for De Niro to ‘talk to himself’ in the mirror to showcase Travis’s mental state but De Niro took it upon himself to create a whole scene. He pretends that he is confronting the politician that he plans to kill. He looks at himself in the mirror and says, “You talkin’ to me?” before whipping out and pointing a gun. The scene not only does well to showcase the irrational state of the character but De Niro delivers one of the most classic and memorable one liners ever.

4. The Warriors (1979) – “Warriors, come out to play!”

David Patrick Kelly’s improvised line is the exclamation mark to the statement about his remarkable performance as Luther in the 1979 movie, The Warriors. The script said for Luther to taunt the Warriors; but, in the moment, Kelly slipped three bottles on his fingers to clang together and screeched out “Warriors, come out to play!” The director of course kept the take in the final cut of the film and the rest is history. Pop Culture history.

3. The Shining (1980) – “Here’s Johnny”

The Shining follows Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson), his wife and son as Jack goes insane inside the walls of the hotel that they are looking after during its closed down off-season. After finally snapping, the deranged husband and father runs after his family with an axe. He grabs the axe and begins to chop the door down which is only heightened by intermitted screams from his wife. After a hole is finally visible, Jack puts his head inside the jagged hole and says, “Here’s Johnny!” The quote is actually Ed McMahon’s popular catchphrase from when he introduces Johnny Carson on The Johnny Carson Show which adds all kinds of creep level when used in this context. The improved part of the scene is amazingly memorable and one of the most quoted in pop culture.

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – “The Hiss”

Actors know when to improvise but sometimes it is ultimately the guidance of the director that guides the scenes and ultimately the movie. During the filming of The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins would try to spook Jodie Foster. In one of his scenes where he describes one of his cannibalistic adventures; he gives a vivid description of his meal. You remember the meal. He was eating the liver of a census-taker with ‘some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” but it was the freakish hiss at the end that is even more devilish than the thought of the cannablistic act itself. Turns out that Hopkins would hiss during the rehearsals in his many attempts to spook her. Director Jonathan Demme decided to keep it in the film to maximize the revolting aspect of the already frightening scene. His 25 minutes of screen time earned him an Academy Award but that hiss will live on in infamy.

1. The Terminator (1984) – “I’ll be Back”

I don’t think I have to describe the synopsis about the cyborg assassin known as the Terminator who travels back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. That’s right. I’m talking about Arnie and the Terminator! The movie that would springboard Arnold Schwarzenegger into superstardom. One of the biggest movies in pop cultural. Director James Cameron let a short unscripted moment into the final cut of his movie and he should be glad that he did. Arnold as the Terminator is not allowed into the police station, and the script simply instructed him to turn and leave in disappointment; but Schwarzenegger decided to look at the officer and say “I’ll be back.” Cameron loved the line, and it was not only used in subsequent Terminator movies but has become one of Schwarzenegger’s most memorable moments.


Images:

All gifs credited to and created by users from giphy.com. Fair use.

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Is the Golden Rule still the Golden Standard?

Golden_Rule_by_Norman_RockwellThe term ‘gold standard’ was the system they used for rating the rate of currency to the gold for which it could be exchanged. The gold standard was mostly abandoned during the Great Depression of the 1930s; but the phrase stuck around to represent that that something is the best and should be used to gauge how good other items in that category are. Another ‘golden’ phrase that has been around for thousands of years is now commonly known as the Golden Rule. The term “Golden Rule” was coined as early as 17th century Britain by Anglican theologians/preacher Thomas Jackson and British novelist Charles Gibbon. Anglican preacher Thomas Jackson used the term “Golden Rule” to represent a specific ‘rule’ given by Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is quoted as saying for us to “do to others what you want them to do to you” is a perfect summary of the Torah. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus finishes by saying that, “(t)his is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.” Historians have pointed out that this idea of ‘treating others as we would want them to be treated’ is not unique to Jesus nor was he historically the first person to instruct or suggest his people to do this; but while there is a similarity, there are still differences to the ‘Golden Rule’ that is found elsewhere.346px-The_Sermon_on_the_Mount_-_William_Brassey_Hole

The versions of the ‘Golden Rule’ have been found in countless written works; and has been used in many religions and belief systems:

African Traditional Religions: One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. (Yoruba Proverb – Nigeria)

Aristotle: We should behave to our friends as we wish our friends to behave to us.

Baha’i Faith: He should not wish for others that which he doth not wish for himself.

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Udanavarga 5:18)

Christianity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and love thy neighbor as thyself.

Confucius: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23)

Hinduism: Do nothing to they neighbor which thou wouldst not have them do to thee. “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517)

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.

Jainism: A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.

Judaism: What you hate, do not do to anyone.

Sikh: As thou deemst thyself, so deem others.

Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.

Zoroastrianism: Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.

The Golden Rule is now known by social psychologists as the Law of Reciprocity, which they surmise that when ‘someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. As a matter of fact, you may even reciprocate with a gesture far more generous than their original good deed.’ In regards to Biblical teaching, you could call the Law of Reciprocity, the ‘Law of Sowing and Reaping’. Though the ‘Golden Rule’, through its many variations, has major differences; but it is the Golden Rule as presented by Jesus that we see a positive command to show love proactively. The inverted nature of the non-Christian ‘Golden Rule’ will rely on passivity and are stated negatively.

Even though the ‘golden rule’ is closely associated with the Christian religion, the ethics of this concept are universal. The message was clear from everyone from African tribes to John the Baptist to Buddha…’treat others the way we want to be treated’. Sadly we have prematurely forgotten about this or that despite its many variations….it must have gotten lost in translation.

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Images:

An Illustration of the Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell used as the cover of the April 1, 1961 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, obtained from http://www.flavinscorner.com/goldrock.JPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47391481

The Sermon on the Mount by William Hole, http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/artist49352/William-Brassey-Hole/page-1, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34083673

La Justice by Bernard d’Agesci, painter (Jeffdelonge pict) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8713098

Water Flowing Through My Place in this World

IMG_0637 2My mom has always said, in times of trials and tribulations, that ‘this place is not my home’. She was of course referencing Bible verses found in the book of John that tell us that we are “not of the world” and that God’s “Kingdom is not of this world.” John 17:16 that says, “(T)hey are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” and this is a verse that a lot of Christians lean towards in our modern times. They lean on the the hope of what is to come; just as much as the Jews and Christians that would have read these words 2000 years ago. My current place in this world isn’t that bad. Saying that “I am blessed” may be a cliche thing for Christians and non-Christians alike to say; but in comparison to so so many, I am. When I think about someone being grateful for their current situation; I think about Huck Finn. Huck Finn was along on that rift with Jim. Jim was free of the bonds of slavery while Huck was being carried away from not only his abusive father but from the civilizing life in St. Petersburg. Huck says that, “you feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” Huck was beginning to realize the freedom that water possesses. The solitude of that raft allowed them to stay away from the crazy reality that lie beyond the shore.

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The water is a representation of finding freedom from society’s corrupt fingers and symbolizes how life continues to flow. The reality that Huck and Jim ran from consisted of a set of dishonorable rules and jaded authority figures. While on that raft, they are like the water. They have no one to answer to and no rules to abide by. Water, even when dammed, still has life unless it is allowed to become stagnant. When Huck and Jim stop on land, then they find chaos and death. Then that life within it dies. When I stand on the shore of the creek behind my house or find myself drifting on the river like Huck and Jim with only the thin aluminum of the boat between myself and the water; I am like them. I am caught betwixt the society which I find to be mostly dishonorable and jaded, and the freedom that I see in the flowing water. When I find myself leaving my earthly home…I shall then find complete freedom since I truly am not of this world.

The Sin Eater: History’s Worst Profession

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In the Ghost Rider comic issue #74, Marvel Comics introduces us to Centurious, who in a Faust-esque manner, sold his soul to Mephisto to fight the demon Zarathos and save the woman he loved. Unknowing to him, the punishment for losing his soul was that he would roam the world and became a soulless immortal. While studying the mystic arts many centuries ago, he acquired the Crystal of Souls. In issues #80 and 81 of the same series, Centurious uses a sin obsessed pastor, Ethan Domblue, who longed for his congregation to be sinless. After being approached by the devilish Centurious, Domblue was given the power to ‘eat’ his congregation’s sins; which left them in a ‘sinless’ but passive state. The parishioners of the town of Holly were trapped inside the Crystal of Souls. The zombie-like slaves were then loyal to Centurious. The Ghost Rider showed up and defeated Centurious and freed the townspeople from the Crystal. As a last act to redeem his own soul, Pastor Domblue helped removed Zarathos from Johnny Blaze and placed the demon inside the Crystal of Souls, which therefore freed Johnny from the curse of the Ghost Rider. This may have been one of the first times that a sin eater had been introduced in comic book culture; but the real life occupation had been around for a long (and I do mean long) time.

The sin-eater is someone who eats a ritual meal in order to take on the sins of that person or persons. The food is believed to have been the vessel to carry the sins of the deceased person and therefore the sin-eater ‘eating’ the sins of this deceased person would absolve them of their sins. Allowing that person’s soul to be clean in the afterlife and based on the religious beliefs of the believer, would be allowed into Heaven/afterlife/wherever. In most mythologies, the sin-eater lives a slightly morbid life, isolated from the rest of the community because of his ‘unclean’ life. The sin-eater in the Ghost Rider comic, is not the only mention of the occupation in popular culture as it has appeared in movies, books, and other comic books. Despite its mention in certain venues; it is a relatively unknown thing.

I had never heard of the sin-eaters until my mom insisted that I watch this 2007 movie entitled The Last of the Sin Eater. The Last of the Sin Eater takes place in 1850s Appalachia and centers around a young girl who while grieves for the loss of her beloved grandmother, who is the only person in her family that loves her because the rest of her family thinks that she is responsible for the death of her sister. During her grandmother’s funeral, the young girl looks onto the face of the village’s sin-eater (because according to lore, the sin-eater became a worse and worse with every ceremony he attended). The girl, who is distraught by the litany of deaths and pain that she feels finds comforts in the teachings and Bible of the preacher that is camping on the outskirts of the village. Since I thought that this was just a Christian tale, my mother insisted that it was a real thing. So of course I had to investigate.

360px-British_Museum_Huaxtec_1-2The sin-eaters and the interactions of the sin-eater to the people of the villages has remained a relatively unstudied part of our human history and remains as folklore for the most part. In mythology, the Aztec goddess of earth, motherhood and fertility, Tlazolteotl, had a role in the Huastec religion of the pre-Columbian Meso-American civilization. In Aztec culture, the individual who was close to death, would confess his/her sins (specifically sexual misdeeds) to the deity, and she would cleanse his/her soul by ‘eating their filth’.

We find sin-eaters in not only the Aztec culture but the occupation has been found in many other regions of the world. A letter by renowned English antiquarian, writer, and collector John Bagford (circa 1650-1716) where he wrote about the sin-eating ritual:

Notice was given to an old sire before the door of the house, when some of the family came out and furnished him with a cricket (a low stool), on which he sat down facing the door; then they gave him a groat which he put in his pocket, a crust of bread which he ate, and a bowl of ale which he drank off at a draught. After this he got up from the cricket and pronounced the case and the rest of the soul departed, for which he would pawn his own soul.

The practice was prevalent in the Marches (which is the land around the England-Wales border) and in northern Wales but mostly died out by the early 19th century. The last known sin-eater in England was Richard Munslow, who died in Ratlinghope in 1906. The English tradition finds that most sin-eaters were generally poor people and earned a small wage (normally a half-shilling) from ‘eating the sins’. This practice was frowned upon by the Christian church despite having origins based in early Christian customs where the early Israelites’ transferred their sins to a ‘scapegoat’ (found in Leviticus 16). This custom was never widely practiced but starting dying out completely in the 19th century. The gravestone of Richard Munslow is found in the small Shropshire churchyard of the St Margarets’s Church in the Ratlinghope village (of only about 100 residents) in England. The inscription is minimal but while most sin-eaters were poor, Munslow was a prominent farmer in the area. His time as the village’s sin-eater would find him ceremoniously partaking in the meal and recanting the phrase:

“I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.”

The now-defunct practice which supposedly died out with men like Richard Munslow did move to America with the influx of Irish, Welch, and British immigrants to the Appalachian mountains during the 18th and 19th centuries. The author of “The Last Sin Eater” book and subsequently the movie; was intrigued by the idea of sin-eaters because of the movie The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel starring Lindsay Wagner and James Woods which also centered around a sin-eater. Her message for all of her novels is that, “God is there waiting when you ask forgiveness;” much like the way the Aztecs worshipped the Goddess Tlazolteotl. Am I thankful that I can just go to God and ask forgiveness instead of finding someone to eat crusty bread from the chest of a dead person before drinking cheap wine just to absolve someone who they hardly know of their sins? Most definitely because I think that I’d rather starve to death than to do that job. I’d go back to digging ditches….which I actually only did for a day and a half.

 


Images:

Cover Image:  Scanned Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (December 1938, vol. 32, no. 6) featuring The Sin-Eater by G.G. Pendarves. Cover art by Ray Quigley. Accredited to Weird Tales, Inc. – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8376605

Ghost Rider (1st Series) cover photo, Issue #80, May 1983 accredited to Marvel Comics.

British Museum Huaxtec 1 accredited to Gryffindorderivative: Ophelia.summers (talk) – British_Museum_Huaxtec_1.jpg, fair use, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15254577

Richard Munslow Gravestone images courtesy of https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/58880934/richard-munslow

May the Fourth be with you

98px-Bdna_croppedA couple of years ago, my mom purchased me the DNA analysis kit for ancestry.com. The ethnicity results somewhat amazed us. We were met with a huge tide of emotions because it was different than what I had been taught for my entire life. My DNA analysis said that my ethnicity was estimated to be made up of 42% Western Europe, 28% Great Britain, 18% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, 8% Scandanavia, and 4% from other places. It was within these 4 percent that I found a 1% for four specific regions and it was within these areas that we pondered on the most.

The first 2 percentages were said to be from either Finland, Northwest Russia and the Caucasus region. The thought of me being from the Caucasus region which consists of 220px-Tunisia_in_its_region.svgArmenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey was surprising. The next 1% from the Iberian Peninsula surprised me even more because the Iberian Peninsula consists of Spain, Portugal, Southern France, the Western Italian Islands, Northern Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. The last 1% comes from Northern Africa which primarily consists of the Western Sahara, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The three popping up consistently were the ones that were the most surprising but after some research into my family tree many months later; I found my missing African link.

220px-Star_wars_1977_us.svgTurns out that my 12th paternal great-grandmother was from Tunisia. Now you probably suspected by the title of this blog that this was a Star Wars Day blog; well in that you would be correct. The reason why is because while reading up on the information I couldn’t get over why the name Tunisia sounded so familiar. The reason why this North African country that borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert sounded so familiar was not my great-grandmother’s ghost whispering information about her homeland; no, it was because I had just re-watched a documentary about the filming of the original Star Wars movie last summer. Part of the Tattoine locations, including Luke’s Tatooine home, were filmed in Tunisia. Guess there could be a little Jedi in me after all.

 

Happy Star Wars Day!

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Images:

B DNA gif by Spiffistanderivative work: Jahobr (talk) – Bdna.gif, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17436581

Geographical Location of Tunisia by TUBS – Own work, This vector graphics image was created with Adobe Illustrator. This file was uploaded with Commonist. This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  World location map (W3).svg (by TUBS)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15302417

Star Wars Logo 1977 by Lucas Arts – http://www.starwars.com/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40435409

1977 Cinema Advertising Star Wars by Michael Dorausch from Venice, USA – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51237185

Just Walk on by the Dark End of the Street

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Music is something that can unite us all. Music breaks racial boundaries and defies the limitations of age. Music is complex. Music may have many genres but the basis of all music is found with an artist creating his art. Whether the artist is bleeding their emotions onto the wire receiver of the microphone, cascading the emotions of their life across the steel strings of their guitar, or even calculatingly producing beats from a MIDI keyboard; it is art that is produced. Sometimes that art is a collaboration of many artists. Sometimes our favorite song may be a cover of someone else’s work. It is also not at all shocking to imagine an artist finding notable influence from the music they hear on the radio. While they aren’t doing a cover; they are merely finding influence. You can’t really say that is is copying or even infer that they got influence from a specific place unless they admit it. The coincidence is sometimes more than a tell-tale sign when it comes to music though. The proof will be in the pudding.

I became privy to the eery similarities of some songs after listening to a song from a two disc set of Classic County songs that I had recently purchased. As I was listening to disc 2 of this collection of classic Country songs, that had everything from the Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr to The Statler Bros and Charlie Pride, I came across a song by Leroy Van Dyke that I had never heard before. As the song played on; I started to notice that the lyrics were extremely similar to a classic R&B song made popular by Percy Sledge that I had listened to with my Motown loving dad many times. I abruptly stopped the song before it was even over and restarted the early 60s county/pop music hit “Walk on By” by Leroy Van Dyke immediately after listening to it to hear the lyrics one more time. I immediately thought of how much it sounded like a countrified version of the “Dark End of the Street”. The song was different enough to not be a cover but the similarities are undeniable.

350px-Percy_Sledge_Alabama_Music_Hall_of_FameThe soul classic hit “The Dark End of the Street” was written in 1966 by Dan Penn and Chips Moman while in the hotel room of Hi Records founder Quinton Claunch. The story goes that he allowed the two to use his room to write the song, while they were taking a break from playing cards, as long as they allowed James Carr to record it. Which they kept their word on the deal and soul artist James Carr released the single in late 1966 and it became his trademark song. While still climbing on the Billboard charts, Percy Sledge recorded his version of the song on his 1967 album The Percy Sledge Way but the song did not have the success that Carr’s version did.

Written by Kendall Hayes, the song “Walk on By” was released by county artist Leroy walk on byVan Dyke in August 1961. The first single, and title track from his album, held the title was his most successful single and was dubbed by Billboard magazine as one of the biggest country music record in history. The single spent 37 weeks on the country chart and a record breaking 19 weeks at the number-one position. The single holding the 19-week number one position was a record held for 51 years until 2013 when Florida Georgia Line’s Cruise.

So both songs center around a two-timing man who has a girlfriend on the side that knows about his main relationship but the main girl does not. He intends to keep his relationships the way they are and does this successfully by not acknowledging his side girlfriend out in public. He knows that this will hurt her to walk by him and not be acknowledged; but they must do it this way. In “The Dark End of the Street” he tells her that “…when the daylight hour rolls around/And by chance we’re both downtown/If we should meet, just walk on by/Oh darling, please don’t cry/Tonight we’ll meet/At the dark end of the street”, while the man in “Walk on By” similarly tells her that “…(I)f I see you tomorrow on some street in town/Pardon me, if I don’t say hello (hello)/I belong to another, it wouldn’t look so good/To know someone I’m not supposed to know/Just walk on by, wait on the corner.”

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While we have established that “The Dark End of the Street” is not a cover; even the title could have came from a section of the “Walk on By” song. The man tells his secret lover to meet him “(I)n a dimly lit corner in a place outside of town” while the other meets “at the dark end of the street”. Penn himself (when asked about the song) said, “we were always wanting to come up with the best cheatin’ song. Ever.” So is it above the realm of possibility that the two of them heard an immensely popular song on the jukebox while playing poker that night and wanted to write their own version of a hit song about cheating? Am I accusing Dan Penn and Chips Moman of a blatant copy? Definitely not. Am I saying that the songs are too close to be a coincidence? Yep. Do I still love each song and respect the artists who wrote  them and recorded them? Double yep.


Images:

A Silhouette of a Guitar Player by Mkim0219 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22037897

Featured Image – “Walk on By” vinyl single image from ebay.com, user bird-cage, Fair Use.

Percy Sledge at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame by and accredited to User:Carol M. Highsmith – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9863041

1947 Wurlitzer 1080 Jukebox by Paulo Philippidis – Flickr: Jukebox – 1947 Wurlitzer model 1080, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19814620

Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Castles in the United States

Grayskull

I immediately think of that cur Skeletor trying to break into Castle Grayskull when I hear someone talk about a castle; while most people’s thoughts would turn to a large fortified stone structure from long, long ago which housed nobility. We think about the Royal families who were entrusted with these buildings. We think of the fortified castles surrounded by a mote sitting on huge expanses of land in England, on the rolling countryside in Scotland, or even in Colorado? So America isn’t exactly on the location list when you imagine a ‘castle’ huh? Well you would be surprised at the number of castles there are here in America. So you know what I do…I make a list. So I have put together Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Castles in the United States.


 

Honorable mention: Bannerman Castle, Pollepel Island, NY –

Construction stopped on Bannerman Castle after the death of its owner, military goods supplier Francis Bannerman; but it was the explosion, a fire, and having been left to the elements for many decades that has led to the castle being labeled as unsafe due to the decaying walls and ‘buried hazards’. The castle is only located 50 miles north of New York City, but it’s up to you whether its worth the trouble of kayaking over.

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10. Belvedere Castle, New York, New York – 

Originally designed in 1865, the castle was built to be nothing more than a folly inside of an already beautiful location. The castle was built inside New York’s scenic historic Central Park. The architectural hybrid of Gothic and Romanesque styles serves many purposes since it has served as a weather tower for the National Weather Service, as well as the interior housing a nature observatory.

9. Gillette Castle, East Haddam, Connecticut – 

Known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on the theatrical stage and in a 1916 silent film (that was famously thought to be lost but was recently found in 2014); but it is my guess that he is best known for his Castle. Known as Gillette Castle, the stone castle sits on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River. The off-beat actor designed the outside to appear to be a medieval castle, while the castle’s interior is more modern and riddled with strange features; like a surveillance mirrors and 60 paintings that pay tribute to his cats…all 17 of them.

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8. Fonthill Castle, Doylestown, Pennsvylvania – 

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972; the concrete, 44 room castle was completed in 1912. The castle was the home of archeologist and tile maker Henry Chapman Mercer. The castle, as well as other facilities owned by Mercer, are now opened to the public to showcase his collection of pottery and art.

7. Gresham’s Castle (aka The Bishop’s Place), Galveston, Texas – 

The elaborately built Victorian-style 19,082 square feet house was finished in 1893 by Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton for lawyer and politician Walter Gresham and his family. After the death of Clayton, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston purchased the house and it was the residence of Bishop Christopher Byrne until the diocese office moved to Houston. After that the diocese opened the castle to the public in 1963 and gave the proceeds from the tours to help fund Catholic students at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

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6. Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga, California – 

From a distance, you would think that you had been transported to 12th or 13th century Tuscany but in all actuality you are in the Napa Valley. Construction actually began in 1995 on this 107 room structure and everything from the hand chiseled stones to the hand made nails to the hand-painted frescoes that are sprawled throughout this 121,000 square-foot castle. The historically accurate castle is the perfect place to feel like royalty; as you sample the best wine that Napa Valley has to offer.

5. Bishop Castle, Beulah, Colorado –

When Jim Bishop started building a cabin out of locally sourced stone in 1969; he had no intentions of building a castle. It was only after a friend told him that it looked like he was building a castle; so he did just that. Bishop hand built the 3 story, 160-foot-tall castle by himself. And because no medieval style castle would be complete without a dragon; Bishop built a metallic dragon that juts out from the roof and on special occasions shoots real fire and smoke through its nose.

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4. Boldt Castle, Heart Island, New York – 

Before being purchased by the Thousand Island Bridge Authority in 1977, George Boldt (owner of the luxurious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) purchased one of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River and started constructing a castle. The six-story castle was built in honor of his wife, Louise. Louise suddenly died in 1904 before the castle was completed. Boldt was broken hearted over his wife’s death and never returned to the island. Until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority purchased the castle, restored it, and opened it to the public; the castle sat abandoned.

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3. Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii – 

There is only one castle in the United States that can claim to house royalty. That United States royal palace was built for King Kalakua and Queen Kapi’olani. Finished in 1882, this luxurious and elaborately decorated with koa wood, ebony furniture and even was complete with a throne room. Kalakaua was influenced to build the elaborate castle to immolate the majestic palaces that he had seen on his journeys. The Iolani palace had the most modern amenities at that time. The gas chandeliers were replaced with electric lighting five years; which was only seven years after Edison invented the first practical incandescent bulb. The palace also had the newly invented telephone installed. Sadly when the US government overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, Queen Lili’uokalani was dethroned. She was actually imprisoned in the beautiful, amenity advanced palace for many months. The Iolani Palace was renovated in the 1970s and was opened to the public in 1978 after being restored to its original glory.

2. Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

Before Hearst Castle and the estate “La Cuesta Encantada (“The Enchanted Hill”) became a California State Park in 1954, owner of the largest newspaper chain and media company Hearst Communications; American businessman, politician, and flamboyant newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst built himself a residence that matched his larger than life personality. In its heyday, the castle was the location for socialites, Hollywood stars and the political elite to party. The likes of Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Stewart, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and many other high profile guests would drive in, use the estate’s personal airfield to fly in or would use the private Hearst-owned train car in from Los Angeles. The Hearst Corporation donated the estate to the California State Parks but made sure that the stipulation would be that the family would be able to use the facility whenever they wanted. And who could blame them?

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1. Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina – 

Known to be the largest privately owned home in the United States, the Bitlmore Estate was the home of one of America’s most prominent families: the Vanderbilts. The Vanderbilts amassed a huge fortune and George Washinton Vanderbilt II was the favorite of his father. The Chateauesque-style mansion is a prominent example of the Gilded Age and still stands today as a beautiful piece of history. The house took 7 years to complete and the final brick was cured in the facilities kiln in 1896. The 135,280 square feet of living area inside the Biltmore House are waiting for you to come and tour.


Images:

Featured Image – Bannerman’s Castle on Pollepel Island from the left bank of the Hudson River by User:Leonard G. – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2417637

Castle Grayskull credit to Mattel and Filmation – Fair use.

Belvedere Castle in Central Park, New York City by Captain-tucker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5553491

Fonthill Castle, Doylestown, PA by Andrearamirez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21552746

Castello di Amorosa front by Oleg Alexandrov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36814168

Heart Island, Fair Use – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=242469

Iolani Palace By Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA – `Iolani Palace, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56821183

The Bitlmore House on the Biltmore Estate by and attributed to Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10314274