Michael vs Zulu Warriors

Yesterday I wrote about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and I mentioned Michael Caine and the film based upon the battle. In said film, there are two great scenes. First, is the scene prior to the actual battle. The Undi Corps of Zulus approaches the grizzled British embattlements and begins a war chant. The British respond by singing “The Men of Harlech,” an old Welsh march. The battle then commences. When the battle is over and the Zulu return, they once again form to begin a war chant, this time saluting the noble, dogged enemy that had repelled their attacks.

The final scene made a very big impression upon when I first watched it as a young Rat sitting in World History at the Mother I. My professor, had regaled us the day before with a spirited and nuanced retelling of the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. To then watch it on the silver screen only fueled the already grandiose notions of venturing out on great campaigns that were already swirling in my head.

But when the Zulus saluted the British I was awed. There, on the screen, was a dramatic representation of honor and respect, even amongst your enemies, that was being drilled into our heads back in the Barracks. It still stands as one of my most favorite scenes from the cinema.

I have embedded it below for your viewing pleasure, dear reader. The big battle doesn’t begin until about the middle of the video, but it follows directly into the final scene.

Mulholland Drive

Growing up in Los Angeles was an exceptional experience. I didn’t realize it at the time, in fact, I ran from it as fast as I could. Looking back on it now, I realize that most of that running was due to my teenage yearning for freedom from my parents’ control and need to explore. Now that I have been transplanted three-thousand miles away, in a town lacking the same energy and vibrance as the City of Angels. Now I yearn to return to my city.

Anyway, the City of Los Angeles encompasses multiple different districts from the hustle and bustle of downtown, to the glamor of Brentwood and Beverly Hills, to the bluffs of Malibu, and the San Fernando Valley. Separating the glitz of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Los Angeles that all non-Angelinos dream about from The Valley are the Santa Monica Mountains. The mountains themselves are rather pedestrian, covered in shrubs and wild grass and houses. But the real beauty is a stretch of tarmac running along the ridge line called Mulholland Drive. This is what it looks like in the daytime:

Mulholland to Downtown

It doesn’t look like much, but stretching from the Hollywood Freeway to Sepulveda Boulevard, it offers the car enthusiast one of the best driving experiences in the world. As it winds its way through the hills, bordered by precipitous drops down the hillside, it provides breathtaking vistas for anyone truly interested in gazing upon the fair city below.

As with most things in life, Mulholland Drive isn’t perfect. You see, those nasty rumors about the gridlock of Los Angeles traffic just so happen to be true and seeing as this masterfully sculpted lane is situated between major thoroughfares between both sides of the city, it is nearly always blocked with a multitude of cars during the daytime. Which left my teenage self and my compadres with a dilemma. We fancied ourselves automotive aficionados; living for the thrill of a quarter mile, the ecstasy of a proper canyon run, and that most allusive of highs: speed. Velocity. Quickness. Rapidity. It didn’t matter what you called it, we chased it, like an addict chases after his next fix. We were young and very foolish, and nearly paid the price for it quite a few times. And one of our favorite places to bathe ourselves in the siren song of screeching tires was Mulholland Drive. But what ever were we to do in order to combat the evil that was rush hour traffic?

Being the inventive young lads that we were, we surmised that we would simply drive Mulholland when the traffic was not there: nighttime. We congratulated ourselves on our brilliance and set out the next available evening. We were young and invincible, and showed utter contempt for the darkness that had encircled our road of choice. But that evening, and all evenings after that, our chutzpah was rewarded by our city, with views like these:

The Valley At Night

Our city was beautiful from above. It amazed us, and provided the perfect backdrop as we carved out corners in the Hollywood Hills. And to this day, the nighttime view from Mulholland Drive is one of the things I long to see again most. It is how I remember the City of Angels, the city of my childhood.

Los Angeles will forever hold captive a special place in my heart. It’s diverse culture and life will always beckon me. It is such a wonderful city. It is my city.

Valley at Dusk

On Cartoons

YouTube – Cab Calloway St. James Infirmary by Fleischer

My senior year in high school I signed up for a cinematography class (one of the benefits of growing up in Los Angeles) in order to fulfill a graduation requirement for a fine arts elective (another benefit of going to school in a Liberal state). To make a long story short, due to a clerical error, I ended up in an animation class. Now, I’ve never been a particularly good drawer, cartoonist, or painter; so it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I decided not to switch out of the class. The real deciding factor was the fact that one of my best friends had signed up for the class with me, and I wasn’t going to leave him high and dry. That, and it had a reputation as an easy class, which would allow me to keep my commitment to focus my senior year on friends, football, and fun.

So, there I was on the first day, forced to confront the horrendous disconnect between the copiously-detailed visions in my head and my left hand’s ability to translate them into an image on a sketch pad. I have always been a man of words, even though I spent a good portion of my teenage years running from it. The pictures in my mind are just as vivid as any of Picasso’s or Renoir’s, but my medium is the written word, using adjectives, verbs, nouns, and all the others to paint the perfect portrait. My drawings on the other hand were all childish.

But as nervous as I was, the first day proved that most of the rest of my fellow students had the same approximate level of cartoonist ability as I did. To make matters even better, our teacher was a cartoonist-turned-English teacher who looked as if he had just come back from catching some early morning waves. His long blond hair and laid-back attitude put me at ease.

Anyway, in order to showcase different styles of animation and to educate us on the history of animation, he would pull old cartoons from the vaults and play them for us. These were the true golden standards of cartooning, from back in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, when great men like Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng made them.

One of the cartoons he showed one day was the parent of the clip pasted above. It’s from an old Betty Boop reel and features caricatured Cab Calloway singing the Saint James Infirmary Blues. I was captivated from the moment I laid eyes on the screen. Cab’s haunting voice paired with the surreal imagery thrilled me. It inspired me, the tune playing endlessly in my head for the rest of the day.

Since that day, I’ve searched the whole wide world over trying to find the cartoon as it is a personal favorite of mine. Having stumbled across it this evening, I have been in a wash of nostalgia, reminiscing about my high school days.

“But how did you fare in the class?” You, my beloved reader, might ask. Well, I can tell you quite plainly that hours of hard work and diligence honed my drawing abilities. Also, the cartoon cemented Cab Calloway’s version of the Saint James Infirmary Blues on my favorites list in iTunes. So in the end, it all came up spades.