Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Billy Jack vs. The Wolf Man

I’ve always been a film buff, from a childhood fascination with horror movies to my teen years of seeing classics and foreign films at the Avon Theatre in Providence, RI. Even now, we have movie nights on Saturdays, and I watch something with my son Justin. I’ve shown him “The Champ” with Wallace Beery, and recently we watched “Westworld” together.

Maybe three or four years I showed my son “The Wolf Man,” starring Lon Chaney, Jr. Silly me, I figured that a black and white werewolf movie from 1941 wouldn’t have the power to scare him much. It was probably more effective than these current flashy movies, filled with digital effects. For a while, Justin said he wouldn’t forgive me for showing him “The Wolf Man.” He asked me if Lon Chaney was still alive. When I replied in the negative, he said, “I would punk him if he was still alive.”

My dad and I never connected over movies. He was too concerned with moral values and bad words. I remember way back when, he took my brother and me to see “Billy Jack” at a local theater. “Billy Jack” was one of those typical successful movies from the 1970’s, starring an anti-hero. Billy Jack, played by Tom Laughlin. Billy Jack was a pacifist who spread his beliefs through the repeated use of the roundhouse kick. I just loved that character.

After leaving the theater, we had the requisite conversation about the movie we just saw, I was stating how much I liked it, when my father started to criticize it due to the cursing. I replied, “That’s stupid.” He reached across and slapped me hard across the face. I still feel the sting over forty years later. I remember glancing back at my brother and seeing his look of shock. After that resounding slap my dad said, “Don’t you ever call me stupid again.”

Maybe I was wrong for calling his criticism stupid. I hadn’t meant that he was stupid, although at that moment, I realized that my father and I would always be worlds apart. From then on I usually asked my mom to accompany to a movie, because she was more open-minded compared to my dad. My parents certainly had a hang up with curse words. I remember showing them the entry in the dictionary for the word “fart,” and their response was, “I don’t care if it’s in the dictionary, we still don’t want you using it.” Instead, we were to use the term “breaking wind.”

My parents never said the word “damn.” It was “darn” or “Gosh darn it all.” Never crap. Even if my dad hit his thumb with the hammer, he would exclaim, “Son of a B!” I thought this odd that words carried so much (negative) power in my family. My son is well aware of curse words, including the “F” word. He’s smart enough to know that there are certain words that are not appropriate for children to use. If I happen to put on a song with cursing, Justin will say, “Daddy. You’ve got to take this off. There’s too much swearing.”

Showing my son The Wolf Man gave an opportunity to talk about death and fear. My son is very perceptive and he recognized that the Larry Talbot character was a good man, but afflicted with a disease which turned him into a vicious werewolf. He saw the character wrestle with the knowledge that he may actually be the murderous wolf man that everyone is hunting.

Back to Billy Jack. I should point out that my dad did not seem upset in the least that his young sons had just witnessed one of the characters being raped on screen, or the Billy Jack chose to solve all his problems using violence. It was the goddamn curse words that irked him. Why is that? Why do we live in a society that mindlessly condones entertainment violence (or violence as entertainment) and yet pulls the cord on offensive words and worse yet, lovemaking? 

We live in a world that also uses violence to solve problems. This society also seems to have a problem with certain words and is obviously hung up on sex when public breastfeeding is taboo, and some loving relationships are deemed sinful. ("Love the sinner, hate the sin.") We all project our pain onto others, and not having the roundhouse kick available to us, we wrestle with our conscience, like Larry Talbot, strapped to a chair, trying desperately to resist his primal urges.  We need to drop our weapons, and give ourselves a warm hug and then start passing that hug around the world.

Tom Laughin as Billy Jack
Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot, aka The Wolf Man

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