Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

"Feast your eyes, glut your soul upon my accursed ugliness!" Those few seconds of seeing Erik the Phantom (Lon Cheney, Sr.) unmasked by the lovely Christine (Mary Philbin), as she recoils in horror at his true face, have to be one of my Top 25 Moments in Film.

Boys and girls, this is one of the finest examples of "Raw sex masquerading as Classic Horror." It is prefaced by a minute or so of Christine starting to untie the mask, recoiling, going forward, going back, then the camera shifts from a side view to a view of both their faces and you see the mask go off and the skeletal visage of Erik's face exposed. This is "horrorgasm" at its best, to say the least! In 1925, women shrieked, cried, and fainted at these few seconds as Erik looms over the fair Christine, virginal beauty personified, with that "I'm seething over you doing this but I still want to get me some with you" look. Love story turns to fears of sexual domination and overpowering evil in one big "splat." It's a scene laced with the seduction of original sin--"Et, et ah! You shouldn't have eaten the apple!"

So much of this is lost on people whose first look at the Phantom was the Andrew Lloyd Weber version. For those like me, who saw this one and the 1943 Claude Rains version in the "Creature Features" and "Tales of Terror" of our youth, those Saturday late-night cheesy horrorfests with some local station dude dressed as a vampire or monster of some sort, Andrew Lloyd Weber is too much love and not enough evil, raw power differential.

But it is the final few moments of the film that steal my heart. Erik is chased by the mob, trapped at the canal with torchbearing hulking townies on both sides of him, a wall in front of him, the canal behind. He reaches in his vest and holds up his fist. The crowd backs off, fearfully. What could be in his hand? A bomb? A grenade? A magic spell? He holds his fist aloft, looks at it as he opens it and reveals...nothing. He laughs maniacally as the mob swarms in on him and he is beaten to death and flung into the canal. He held them back with an illusion.

Therein lies the message.

How many times are we held back by something we view as "powerful", wielded by evil, that when the fist is opened, revealed nothing but thin air? How many of the things we see as substantial paralytic forces in our relationship with God are, in reality, illusions? We hold back on stewardship even though the "protection" that our money offers can be dashed on the rock in hours to days. (Can you say "economic meltdown"?) It is a ghost. We hold back on giving care to the poorest and least of us because we fall prey to the scarecrow of the stereotype of the "ungrateful, lazy poor." We hold back on loving each other to the fullest of our being because the specter of "they might take it the wrong way" peeks out from behind the lamp post.

All these trolls and hobgoblins of our mind, these constantly spinning little hamster wheels, fading in and out of a cloak of fog, are the unrealistic manifestations of expectations we perceive from others, the constantly set-too-high bar of our own unrealistic expectations, and the weird expectations we try to claim are God's but in reality they are our own little hamster wheels of self-defeating shame and doubt.

Today, as I was working through Psalm 58, verse 11 jumped out at me: “And they will say, ‘Surely, there is a reward for the righteous; surely, there is a God who rules in the Earth.’”

I got stuck on the word righteous.

My first thought was, "But I'm not righteous." I will never win the Goody-Two-Shoes award. Too many four letter words in my lexicon. Ok, so then I resorted to my usual "what I do when a word sticks in my gullet" problem: I looked up the original Hebrew. The Hebrew word in this verse is tsaddiyq (Tsuh-DEEK). "Just, correct, and lawful."

Hey, wait a minute! once again, my own fears on this one are greater than God's expectations, even! All God wants is for me on this gig is to strive to be just, correct, and lawful. I set the bar at an unattainable position for me with regard to "righteous." I have permission--God's permission, in fact--to lower the bar further to reality instead of appeasing my illusions. To live in a righteous manner is to strive to be just, correct, and lawful. Otherwise, we might as well heave a big sigh and say, "I can't do this." My own "accursed ugliness" is merely a willow-the-wisp...and ain't it grand!

3 comments:

You looked it up in the HEBREW?!?!?! Show-off. ;-)

Awesome post, my friend.

Dear Friend and I saw the film in question Halloween night. The local Presbyterian church was having a showing, and Dear Friend's organist was playing the accompaniment. It was awesome! Though it might have been a bit funnier than usual---Henry has a wicked sense of humor. Every time Raoul showed up on screen, we heard an organ rendition of "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You." And when the Phantom leads Christine through the labyrinth on a donkey, we heard "Happy Trails to You." Funny guy... ;-)

That would have been a great showing with great organ ad-libs, which is what small town organists/piano players actually used to do in the silent era. So seeing the same movie in two different theaters could be a totally different experience.

Well, and let me qualify. My Hebrew study Bible has the Hebrew, and the transalliteration, and the English, and commentary in English. But I can recognize some words like "Adonai" in the "real Hebrew" when I see them!

DF taught Hebrew, Greek, and Latin at two different seminaries. I should ask him if he has one of those Bibles...

Right now, his church is sharing their space with a Conservative Jewish synagogue. They invited us to spend Yom Kippur with the congo, and it was really neat to hear him chanting along in Hebrew with them. (It was all Greek to me... ;-)

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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