Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"There is a light and it never goes out."

I loathe the shift in programming on History Channel. Gone are the exposés on, well, history, and in their place is a hodge-podge of gobbledygook that must leave Spike TV executives drooling. It's as though every last career choice my high school guidance counselor's TRS-80 spit out now has its own television show.

It's become an increasingly ridiculous cavalcade of minutiae: Crabber. Logger. Alligator hunter. Truck driver. Junk collector. Junk restorer. My favorite? Pawn shop worker. What, did someone already own the rights to "Carpet Shampooers"?

It's been an overall dumbing-down of programming across the board. Take one look at their 24-hour lineups and you'll see just how devoid of *gasp!* history the History Channel has become:

8:00 PM - Pawn Stars
9:00 PM - Pawn Stars
10:00 PM - Pawn Stars
11:00 PM - Modern Marvels
12:00 AM - Pawn Stars
1:00 AM - Pawn Stars
2:00 AM - Infomercial
3:00 AM - Infomercial
4:00 AM - Infomercial
5:00 AM - Infomercial
6:00 AM - Infomercial
7:00 AM - Infomercial
8:00 AM - Pawn Stars
9:00 AM - Pawn Stars
10:00 AM - Pawn Stars
11:00 AM - Pawn Stars
12:00 PM - Pawn Stars
1:00 PM - Pawn Stars
2:00 PM - Pawn Stars
3:00 PM - Pawn Stars
4:00 PM - Some big, fat, dumb hillbilly cable repairman doing something
5:00 PM - Pawn Stars
6:00 PM - Pawn Stars
7:00 PM - Pawn Stars

Somewhere in the midst of all this will also be the nadir of Western Civilization, the utterly banal "How The States Got Their Shapes". Yes, a show which is essentially playing a mono-syllabic game of "big puzzle" with my fellow Americans, the majority of whom couldn't find the Earth on a globe. Why didn't they just name it what Jim Carrey does here?

Pardon the sardonic tone, and I mean no offense to those who enjoy such shows. It's just that, in a time when the world desperately needs more light, this dimming -- especially on what had been a beacon of educational and inspiring programming -- is maddening. I refuse to believe that this is the best they can do. I suppose it sells better than Belleau Wood, however, and that's an utter shame.

On the flip side, I recently watched a most enjoyable movie: "Tristan + Isolde".

Tolkien said, "History became legend, legend became myth." I'm sure these words apply to the tale put forth in Kevin Reynolds' 2006 film. Tristan's arc is so close to Lancelot's in the story of King Arthur that it can't be mere coincidence.

Their love story was tragically redeeming. Tristan won the veiled princess for his King at the tournament, only to discover he'd essentially hocked his heart. Still, he knew that losing love was but a small price to pay for ending a hundred years of bloodshed. For as straightforward and easy a decision as that may sound, I don't think it's one many could make. He had high ideals, so it was interesting to see him wrestling internally and descending the closer Isolde grew to Marke (whose understanding, forgiveness and acquiescence to their love should set the all-time standard for magnanimity).

When Marke was discussing the merits of love with Tristan and called Isolde in to comment, this exchange was one of their finest:

Tristan: There are other things to live for: duty, honor.
Isolde: But they are not life, Tristan. They are the shells of life, and empty ones if in the end all they hold are days and days without love. Love is made by God. Ignore it and you suffer as you cannot imagine.
Tristan: Then I will no longer live without it.
He finally gave in to his heart, his passions, and Isolde was all too willing to meet at the old Roman bridge. Marke took him in as an orphan, raised him as a son, and this is Tristan's gratitude? All of them had to be absolutely tortured. In the end, what wins - loyalty or love? Which is more important, more binding? 

Yet again, actor Mark Strong plays the consummate scheming English prick and steals the show. His deftly maneuvering the night party into happening upon Tristan and Isolde's moonlight escape, and then exploiting the forgotten Roman tunnel, were dastardly.

The battle scenes were great, particularly the forest ambush and subsequent defeat of Isolde's smarmy betrothed. Also, Tristan defiantly thrusting his sword into the keep door's gear works and defeating Wictred - again, and this time with no yielding - was just.

As an aside, James Franco's gradual fall and the visible darkness he developed in both manner and appearance reinforced an old belief for me: He should've gotten the part of Anakin Skywalker.

There are so many interlinking parts to this story, it's remarkable. From the Irish attacking the British council in the beginning to their attempted sack at the end, Tristan and Isolde were like chess pieces moving from square to square, ever closer.

In the end, the impression I had was one of fate. These two souls were ordained for each other, but irony, obligations and circumstances did all they could to keep them apart. When they were in stolen repose in the garden, Isolde eyed the two ancient lovers on the mural and pondered their fate. When she was nursing Tristan back to health, she read:

"My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, And true plain hearts do in the faces rest; Where can we find two better hemispheres Without sharp north, without declining west? Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally; If our two loves be one, or thou and I Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die."
I think that's precisely what it's all about. In the end, love is the only true power. It's not the might of kings or the force of generals, it's the bonds of affection, humility and forgiveness, and those who accept them are neither dead nor forgotten, ever. Here we are, after all, thousands of years later experiencing their story. As Tristan said as he pushed Isolde's boat away:
"For all time they will say it was our love that brought down a kingdom. Remember us."