Tag Archives: Greek

Hawksely Workman: The God That Comes

Hawksley Workman. Photo from his site.

Hawksley Workman. Photo from his site.

I meant to write about this right away but I’ve been busy. Last week, I got to see Hawksley Workman in The God That Comes, part of Vancouver’s PuSh Festival. It took place at Performance Works on Granville Island. When I bought the (very reasonable) tickets all I knew was that I liked Hawksley Workman’s music. I have two of his albums (For Him and the Girls, Between the Beautifuls). But I didn’t know if the piece at the festival was music, or a play or both. And in a way, it was indeed both, a work in progress.

I was surprised to see how intimate the performance space was, set up like a lounge or cabaret. The venue also doubled as Club PuSh where you could hang after, drink and dance to DJ tunes. The show was introduced by a drag queen, who I believe called herself the Queen of East Van. She was done up with a wild black mop of hair and a slinky, leopard print shiny, long gown. As the show began I knew exactly why a drag queen opened this show and why she was dressed as she was.

Workman’s show is described as:

Hawksley Workman, Bacchus, Dionysus, wine, music, maenads

Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, theatre and madness.

It tells the story of a king whose subjects revolt against his oppressive rule to worship the Greco-Roman god of wine Bacchus (aka Dionysus) in a hedonistic spiritual revolution. This concept album for the stage, created with 2b Theatre Company’s Christian Barry is a work-in-progress that fuses the chaotic revelry of a rock concert with the intimacy of theatrical storytelling.

Hawksley Workman began by coming out on a stage festooned drums, a keyboard, various stringed and other instruments and three sytrofoam wig heads on stands. One wore an ash-blonde flip-style wig, one a red boa, and one a military hat. There was also a white, headless mannequin in a red strapless dress. Hawksley was wearing a jacket with military style in its lines.

He first read a story, with a glass of wine in hand, about a king who is suspicious of his people frolicking in the hills with a new god. Even his mother is going, so he dresses up as a woman and, unrecognized, is torn apart. This is the short version of The Bacchae, an ancient Greek play by Eurpides, about the mythological King Pentheus who meets the new god Dionysus and his followers, the women who become maenads.

Maenads were to be feared. These followers of Dionysus embraced his divine madness and were rumored to tear apart animals and mortals in their ecstatic, wine-induced frenzy. While there is no evidence of the dismembering of humans or animals ever happening  the maenadic and Dionysian rituals did indeed take place.

Workman’s one-man show included songs that covered the king’s feelings, his military might, his curiosity and fear, his demise. It also covers the ecstasy of Dionysus and how Dionysus was viewed. Unlike the twelve Olympian gods or the Titans before them, Dionysus was originally a foreign god, chthonic and believed to have come from another culture. He was depicted with ivy and grapes wound in his black hair, often wearing women’s dress, which, in ancient Greece, meant a different cut of chiton to the men’s chiton, and effeminate of feature.  He was the androgyne that women followed. For a culture that constrained women, this appealed to their wild side and they were allowed to indulge it during his festival. Dionysus’ myth includes being torn apart himself by the Titans and ingested and reborn. In fact, he is one of a long string of dying and reborn gods and precedes Jesus. Now it begins to make sense why the drag queen was perfect for introducing the show.

maenad, gods, Dionysus, Hawksley Worrkman, frenzy, divine ecstasy, mad god

Maenads were female followers of Dionysus who celebrated in ecstatic frenzy.

Hawksley Workman’s songs ranged from impassioned and tragic to hysterically funny as when he sang Ukelele Boy, about Dionysus. For another piece he picks up the top half of the dressed torso and then plays a harmonica positioned beneath the dress so that it looks very sexual to the audience who see’s his head at the level of the genitals. When Pentheus discovers the maenadic orgy, Workman takes a well-known line “my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord” and tosses it  on its side, giving more meanings to what type of coming is happening.

For the ecstatic ritual he sings, “Won’t your ride with me…our feet pound the earth with pleasure so deep…won’t your ride with me.” This lead into Workman stomping out a staccato rhythm with his feet and two poles in his hands. Very deep, very visceral. After the maenads realize they have torn apart the king, Hawksley’s lines include “Can you believe that his blood came out red?” and “salt in his tears.” Note that I was mesmerized and writing notes in the dark so these lines could be off a bit.

Hawksley Workman used the heads as props, sometimes wearing the boa or the hat, sometimes talking to the head. Under his modern vest he wore a purple shirt and one of his instruments had a leopard skin patterned strap. All of these small details, including that glass of wine, were significant as they are symbols of Dionysus; red, purple, leopards (Dionysus is almost always shown with a leopard skin across his shoulder), wine.

The performance was wacky, invigorating, funny, sad, and extremely original. I’ve liked Workman’s music before because of the originality of the tunes and the lyrics. The God That Comes blended this well, and showed his creative genius. He definitely researched Dionysus and the Maenads and embraced them to write such a powerful show. This touched me on several levels. I intimately know the tale of Dionysus and the maenads. I do hope this comes out as an album, but I wished I could have seen the show again. I’ve already told several friends to watch for Workman if he’s come to their city. He’s worth seeing and I very much appreciated being close enough to feel part of the show. I raise ten glasses of wine to Hawksley Workman. And I can say that I may have been the only person sitting there that night who has been a maenad. Io Dionysus.

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Movie Review: Immortals

Henry Cavill, Theseus, Immortals, film, movies, Greek gods, gods

Henry Cavill’s Theseus is competently acted but the plot lacks. Nice man muscles though.

I actually had no clue what this 2011 film was about when I got it. I thought Immortals might be about superheroes and in a way it is, the superheroes of old. It is a tale of Theseus; you know, the guy who battled the Minotaur and did other heroic deeds. In the ancient world of Greece you had your gods, your demi-gods and your heroes. As time, history and mythology progressed, some heroes became demi-gods. And when you have thousands of years of history and mythology the stories get a little muddied.

So I was willing to accept a lot of fantastic elements and let some of the costuming (of the gods) be historically inaccurate. But let’s look at the costuming because it’s often a bugaboo for me. Since this is placed in ancient Greece, it’s at least pseudo historical. How pseudo?  A lot.

Minotaur, Theseus, movies, film, Greek gods, Olympian, Immortals

I was okay with this interpretation of the Minotaur though the tale strays pretty far afield after this.

Theseus’s people live in a narrow cliffside area, but there are no trees, no grass, no chickens and what looks like no way down the very high, sheer cliffs to fish. So what do they do there? Is this the town center, missing any semblance of commerce, or a temple? Who knows but the people are dressed in weird baggy homespun robes of indiscriminate shape with odd woven cape things on some of them. Theseus himself doesn’t seem to be doing much but hacking ineffectually at a dead tree on a rocky shore. But at least he has a nice impression of leather armor/breastplate though if he’s not a warrior I’m not sure why he has one or how a man of his age doesn’t seem to be part of the army or working a little harder at surviving.

I can give the bundles of fabric to emulate peasantish clothing, I could even forgive that he has some leather armor but then we get to the sibyls in the sibylline monastery. First, monastery? Really? The Greeks had temples with priests and priestess. Monasteries came about with Christianity. And since we’re dealing with pseudo history, the “monastery” is some ugly rectangular edifice with no windows, and reminiscent of Mordor once the Heraklion forces move in.  But back to the sibyls who look like they’re wearing semi sheer red and black chitons or peplos (the rectangular garment we associate with Greece). Underneath, lo and behold, they’re wearing lovely red skirts with corset/bodice tops. Yep, that’s as far from ancient Greece as I am.

The worst case of crabs I’ve ever seen. The Immortals

The Heraklion forces are lead by the ruthless Hyperion (don’t get me started on the names), played by Mickey Rourke. I have to tell you it’s hard to take the really bad man seriously when he’s wearing a crab claw on his head. I kid you not. Of all the bad guy helms that could be made, I guess we can give this one points for originality but it is ludicrous beyond belief. The silly hats and headdresses don’t stop there. Enter the gods, dressed all in gold, plastic gold armor from what I can tell, and a nice gold corset top for Athena (no Aphrodite here; after all it’s about war). They’re all wearing bizarre headdresses that I can’t figure out until I hear Poseidon’s name and figure out he’s got shells on his ears in gold filigree. And the guy I took to be Apollo with giant rays of gold coming off of his hat (there’s too much air space for it to be a helmet) turns out to be Ares, god of war. The helmets that the Olympian gods don when they have to battle the Titans are nothing Greek at all and in fact pretty similar to the Titan helmets. Strangely the gods wear helmets but Theseus doesn’t in battle. Why why why do the dumb heroes and villains fight without their helmets unless they have no brains (or the directors don’t).

Immortals, Greek gods, Athena, Ares, movies

Ares looks back to measure Athena’s crown and see if it’s bigger than his. As a historical note, the ancient Greeks did not wear crowns.

Oh and the Titans, well they’re held in Mount Tartarus for all time, just chained up together in a box (it’s more cruel you know) so they can wait and wait. They’re shown as identical and when unleashed there are more of them than we saw. And let’s not forget that the Titans were 12 gods before the Olympians came along, and 6 of them were women. We see mindless cloned killing machines that Zeus ends up burying by pulling down gigantic statues, placed inside a mountain that nobody goes to. Why didn’t they do this first? And the gods, well they are so super fast that each of them can kill five Titans in the literal blink of an eye, but somehow the Titans still get the better of them and kill them all including some nondescript Olympian army dudes. No more Poseidon or Ares or Athena? Theseus doesn’t save the day except to kill Hyperion before he succumbs (but is saved to the heavens by Zeus).

The sets have their share of CGI, a bit too much and too obvious I think, but the biggest problem with the movie is that it’s a mishmash and doesn’t know what it wants to be. If you’re going to take one of the many varieties of a myth and do your own interpretation, that’s fine but this has the feel of someone with ADHD on too much caffeine, from the disjointed imagery and costumes to the storyline. I didn’t mind that the Minotaur is a very large man wearing a metal made bull helmet but when Theseus chops off his head in the mausoleum where he puts his dead mother,  he feels the need to carry it outside with him. The crypt suddenly becomes the labyrinth though he had no trouble walking into it and there is no Ariadne to give him a ball of twine but his own bloody or wet footprints. Once outside and seeing his friends about to be killed he tosses the head over the cliff and uses the Epirus bow.

Now we come to it, the item that Hyperion seeks and that Theseus finds. Okay, there is no mythological Epirus bow though there was a town of Epirus and Greeks like many cultures had archery. But the bow (very modern in looks) might have been tied to Apollo but they leave that out. And it’s a weak plot device and doesn’t add a lot. The sibyl Phaedra who has been trained as a prophetess gives up her virginity and pretty much the first sight of Theseus. At least in the myths they do have him married to Phaedra for a while.

The acting is competent with such names as Henry Cavill (Theseus, The Tudors), Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans (Zeus, Three Musketeers), Freida Pinto (Phaedra, Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Dorff (Stavros, Public Enemies) and John Hurt. But you can only do so much when the storyline dips and drops all over. When Poseidon causes a seismic wave of watery doom, the heroes get off the ship that is destroyed with their enemies, not to mention that we don’t see the rest of the decimation of a seaside coast for miles around. But hey, gods are capricious. Personally, I think I know why the gods meddled with Theseus even if Zeus threatened them with death if they interfered with the free will of humans. (Since when did Greek gods worry about morals?) They were probably so bored with the storyline that they had to spice it up with the action shots. After all, enough special effects will carry a story that should just sink to its watery doom. I’m afraid I can only give this a generous 5 Olympian statues out of 10. Originally I gave a 6 but that’s too generous by far. Addendum: I just saw Wrath of the Titans and it was even worse. I could only give it 2 crumbling statues. Directors, just don’t use existing myths/legends if you’re going to mangle them so badly.

Zeus, Greek gods, Immortals, film, movies

Hunky Zeus coddles Theseus but bans the other gods from doing so.

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Cats and Gods

Cats, we all know them. We love them or we hates them. There are those of us who love them, and that’s pretty much everyone on my block. My neighbor had a cat that died a year ago. He’s just got two new cats. I have one but used to have two. My other neighbor has four, two of which were the children of my cat when she was an unwed, teenage mom (also abandoned on the street). There used to be three of her children but one died. And my neighbor’s other two cats were street cats as well.

My landlady, the Mother Teresa of cats, has adopted so many homeless cats over time. Her two current cats were adopted from the street. One actually abandoned his first owner and the other was taken from his rough tom days on the street. We used to have a fish factory at the end of the street and there was always a bunch of feral cats living there. My landlady captured them, had them fixed and released them. She also still goes and feeds them every day.

Neighbors across the street and down the block have cats or have had them. There are two or three dogs but the cats outnumber them and the neighboring blocks have many cats as well. I also at one point, when I had my previous cat, had an interloper, a very pregnant, little tabby female. It turns out that she knew how to use my cat door and at that time I didn’t have one that looked. It seemed obvious to us that she was going to have the kittens in my place since I’d found her sleeping on my bed several times.

So we cleaned out the bottom of the closet and arranged some towels for the inevitable event. My landlady had laid out a little bed in the sink in the work shed but the cat studiously avoided it. And sure enough, I went away one weekend and when I came back, the cat had had kittens, seven of them on the seventh day of the seventh month. That’s a large litter for a cat. She also had chosen to have them, not on the lovely towel bed we had made for her in my bedroom closet, but in the den on a bunch of fabric I had stored.

With such an auspicious number of cats with the 777, I decided they all had to be named after gods. I named her Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, because giving birth to all those babies made her a deity. The only black kitten, a female was name Kali after the Hindu goddess. There was one tuxedo cat that was named after a Celtic god but I can’t remember which one, Cuchulain rings a bell but he was a hero not a god. There were four tabbies, two with brown noses that I named Freya and Loki and two males with pink noses that were named Zeus and Hermes. And there was one longhair tabby male. I can’t remember all the names but I covered the Norse, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian and Hindu pantheons with the names. I believe there was an Isis and Osiris in there.

The cats went off to different homes and I don’t think any of them kept their original names. The longhaired cat became Smokey because of the color of his fur. Hermes and Zeus became Starsky and Hutch. I guess they weren’t meant for godhood.

 But then my other cat came along, she whose children were adopted next door. At the time I just wanted to name her after a god but I had no special reason. She was petite, with bunny fur and big eyes. Aphrodite seemed to big a name for such a small cat so I named her Venus. She did, after motherhood, fill out into a matronly form. However, she became less aloof after my other cat died and did in fact prove that I’ve named her aptly. Any time anyone enters my house my cat flops over at their feet and splays her belly to be rubbed. She loves attention all the time and being pet, even in the wrong direction. She doesn’t care as long as it’s attention. But she hates and is jealous of other cats.

Cats have been around a very long time and domesticated by humans for millennia. However, they have not been domesticated as long as dogs, the first animal that humans domesticated. And one can argue the domestication of cats, who maintain their independence. Cats are definitely more agile with their paws than a dog is, and they can go in litter boxes, eliminating the need for a daily walking. They are also pretty resistant to training, which dogs are not.

Between that life of ease, the aloofness, the independent behaviors, it’s no wonder that they have been associated with godhood. Ancient Egyptians worshipped them and mummified them, just like humans. And I believe that it’s the Thai people who believe that nothing perfect can remain on Earth, because it would ascend to heaven. Therefore the cat’s tails are cut so that they aren’t perfect.

So is it any wonder we name cats after gods? I always say I’m coming back as a cat in my next life. It wouldn’t be so bad to be pampered. My neighbor now has two new cats and my landlady and I think he should give them godly names. They’re Persians so they definitely look regal. It’s fitting to give a cat a godly name, because it goes with their nature. If one named a dog after a god, that god would have to be goofy or obedient, not exactly the way we see deities. Hail, the noble pussycat. 🙂

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