Archive for April, 2011

Responsibility You Can’t Refuse

Posted in "Responsibility You Can't Refuse" (Week Three) on April 27, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Michael Corleone" (Al Pacino, left) discusses business with his father "Vito Corleone" (Marlon Brando, right) in a scene from "The Godfather".

No matter how bad things seem to be in my life, whatever troubles are bothering me or challenging the concentration on my studies, I am always assured of one comfort that is constantly in existence. That is the knowledge that I have a good family. Since the day I was born, I have had the best support group that anyone could ask for. A grand tradition in my family, on both sides, has always been the respect for family. My family supports its members, and promotes their individualism, but in return it is our duty to serve the family and maintain its well-being when asked to do so. In my opinion, it is not an unreasonable demand. If my father said he needed some of my bone marrow to keep him alive, it would be the least I could do after all that he has done for me (that includes his paying for the majority of my college tuition).

However, we sometimes feel that we are thrown into unfair obligations when our family is in a crisis. In August 2007, my grandfather (Dad’s dad) died after years of diabetes and complications of the heart. It didn’t help that he smoked cigarettes religiously and maintained a poor diet. Years of hard work, when he received a great number of injuries, had also taken their toll. But, he was known to be a die-hard, which gave his death an odd quality of surprise. While working on grain elevators, Grandpa had a drill shoved through his chest in an accident. It barely missed his heart. While working the same occupation, his arms were severely burned. As a rancher, he had been thrown off of horses and kicked by cattle. In his later years, he survived numerous heart attacks and strokes and still got out of the hospital bed to return to work. Grandpa had that legendary quality of Don Vito Corleone, living a dangerous life and cheating death just to return home and keep business running as usual. But, alas, even the Don dies someday.

In Francis Ford Coppola’s hit “The Godfather”, the true, core drama of the story is not so much about Vito (master method actor Marlon Brando) trying to survive. Although his character is greatly important, he serves more as an idea and has very little screen time. The real plot focuses on Vito’s youngest son, Michael (a baby-faced Al Pacino) and about the responsibilities that are thrust upon him after Vito is gunned-down in the street and bed-ridden. Michael’s older brother, Santino (James Caan), is a non-thinking hot-head. The next son, Frederico (John Cazale), is cowardly and weak. Their adoptive brother, Tom Hagen (the cast keeps getting better with Robert Duvall), although smart, is cautious and prefers to talk rather than fight. Michael is the family’s last hope, and he is forced to meet the challenges that the Corleones face. He becomes the new Don when Santino is murdered and Vito finally dies of old age.

Just as Michael Corleone took his father’s place as Don in “The Godfather”, Dad had to take care of unfinished business for Grandpa when he passed. At the time, Grandpa had a herd of cattle and paid rent for a house and land to graze them on. After the funeral, Dad had the stressful task of seeing that the cattle were properly sold off and that all loose-ends of the rent were settled. The hardest part was paying off unanswered debts and getting Grandma successfully moved off of the property and into a different place.

All of us, especially Dad, knew that the responsibility was there and waiting. I’m sure I will go through a similar trial when my parents depart, but I will gladly accept the responsibility of seeing my family through it when those days arrive. It is the favor I shall return. After all, my family made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a happy life.

“The Godfather” and all images from it are property of Paramount Pictures.

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Don’t Look Down, Don’t Look Back

Posted in "Don't Look Down Don't Look Back" (Week Two) on April 20, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Johnny Ferguson" (James Stewart) discovers his fear of heights in the opening scene from "Vertigo".

Humans are perhaps the most flawed creatures on the face of the Earth. All people, of any age or background, are conquered by fears and memories. They let the smallest of obstacles paralyze them and they refuse to forget every wrong ever done to them. People often do drastic things to face their fears, or try to “go back in time” and recreate a moment to find a redemption from the past.

When I was five years old, I was terrified of the deep end at my local swimming pool. My fear had developed from an incident when I was four, when I had accidentally bobbed across the point at which the 5 FT area sharply drops to the 7 FT zone. When my feet failed to meet the bottom, my heart and mind froze. The water rushed over the top of my head, and the struggle back to the 5 FT zone was the longest ten seconds of my young life. I wasn’t planning on returning to the deep end any time soon after.

Now, I wonder if that’s how Johnny Ferguson felt when he clung to the gutter for dear life while watching a fellow policeman fall to his death. In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, “Vertigo”, it certainly left Johnny (played by the brilliant James Stewart) with a terrible fear of heights. Due to this uncontrollable case of acrophobia, Johnny had to quit the police force, and even had to watch the woman he loved, Madeleine (portrayed by the beautiful Kim Novak) fall to her death because he could not reach the top of the tower she fell from.

Just as Johnny wanted to save Madeleine, the four-year-old me wanted to dive for a stray quarter that had been dropped into the deep end. Alas, our fears killed our desires.

However, in a bizarre twist (I won’t give it away), Johnny gets to relive the moment Madeleine dies. Oddly enough, he gets his second chance to conquer his phobia.

When I turned five, I nervously jumped into the deep end, forcing myself to stay under for as long as I could. For me, reliving the experience worked. The next time, I saved my precious quarter.

“Vertigo” and all images from it are property of Paramount Pictures.

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In Rick’s Place

Posted in "In Rick's Place" (Week One) on April 13, 2011 by John R. Kitch

A scene from "Casablanca". Pictured from left to right: Paul Henreid as "Victor Laszlo", Ingrid Bergman as "Ilsa Lund", Claude Rains as "Cpt. Louis Renault", and Humphrey Bogart as "Rick Blaine".

Jealousy, envy, and bitterness can ruin the best people and the best friendships.

Naturally, perhaps instinctively, all humans want to be the best. They wish to be the most attractive, the most cunning, and the most important. Though all these may sound as though they are selfish desires, is it not true that most people wish to be all of these wonderful things just to impress that certain someone? For some people, it seems very easy to be the charming hero with everything going right, and they get the girl or the guy. The anti-heroes are lucky to get what little happiness and love is left in the world, and a bitterness just seems to loom over their every opinion of the fortunate heroes.

I admit, I often feel like an ideal anti-hero, like I am in Rick’s place (his situation, that is). The Rick I refer to is Rick Blaine, portrayed by the pessimistic and brooding performance of Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca”. Poor Rick once had a lover in Paris name Ilsa Lund, a stunning example of a woman (rightly played by Ingrid Bergman). On the eve of their escape from the Nazis, she stands him up at the train station. Time passes, and Rick establishes a club and gambling hall, “Rick’s Cafe Americain” (often referred to by the characters as Rick’s Place), in Casablanca. And then, out of the blue, Ilsa enters his place on the arm of the handsome and heroic Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid), a Czech resistance fighter against the Nazis. After their surprising and brief reunion, Rick says one of the famous lines:

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

I know the feeling. A couple years ago, a friend that I admired (and still do) made the prettiest girl in high school his girlfriend. Naturally, I also had feelings for her, and she was aware of it. Her and I were friends, and still had our own conversations, but I kept asking the air “Why did she step into my life? Why her? If she can not be my girlfriend, then why do I go through the agony of knowing her?” This girl had walked into my gin joint, but she was on the arm of her Laszlo.

Then, I remembered why I put myself through the drama of pouring my heart out to someone that was already taken. It was because the girl and I always had Paris. Towards the end of “Casablanca”, Ilsa actually considers leaving Laszlo and staying with Rick, but Rick lets her go, saying:

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Of course, this girl and I never had a romantic affair in Paris, but we had our friendship and our conversations. We spoke honestly to each other, and we had formed what I thought to be a special kind of friendship. I still value that friendship to this day very highly. Laszlo could not take away Rick and Ilsa’s time in Paris, and my friend could not take away the friendship I had with his girlfriend.

I suppose, in a way, we will always have our “Paris”.

“Casablanca” and all images from it are property of Warner Bros.

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