You know, I’ve really kind of fallen off with this little experiment of mine, but this week is the anniversary of a few events from days gone by that really speak to what it means to be a man, so I thought maybe I’d throw one out there and try not to fuck it up too bad.
I like to think I have a strange opinion on movies. I try to only have a medium amount of snobbery when it comes to most stuff, but I also can’t help but love some of the shittiest stuff they’ve ever put on film. I really try and find the good amongst the bad, and so I guess you’ll have to forgive what I hope to be a quite serious point when I lead it off by quoting The Thirteenth Warrior (1999).
Antonio Banderas, despite his delicious Latin presence, never really did it for me as a leading man- I always got the more ‘romantic lead’s arch rival’ vibe from him. That being said, The Thirteenth Warrior just was one of those movies that, well, I’ve got it on VHS and DVD.
I think what spoke to me about the movie initially was my love of the Gettin’ the Gang Together movies- The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Ocean’s Eleven (2001), The Great Escape (1963), and of course, The Magnificent Seven (1960). And to be perfectly honest, it’s kind of what makes the movie so great. They found a bunch of tall, blonde, foreign dudes, and just let them deliver some of the more devil may care lines tall, blonde, foreign dudes have ever delivered. One in particular stands out to me, and is going to finally reign this post in toward the point.
The invading horsemen have broken down the gate, the villagers our heroes are fighting for are routed, buildings are burning everywhere, and amidst the chaos is Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), just and lost and confused as the old women running for their lives.
Suddenly, from the flames appears Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich), the monstrous Viking king, and leader of the 13 warriors, carrying an armload of sharpened logs. Of course he appears unfazed, and he tosses the undersized Ahmed one of the stakes.
‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ Ahmed asks.
And Buliwyf’s reply brings my point- ‘Put your foot on it…and stand.’
And so they stand shoulder to shoulder in the street, and they break the horsemen’s charge and give their own the time to retreat. And I love it.
Sometimes the best action is no action, sometimes that’s the only thing left to do (‘From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever!‘) and sometimes no action is exactly what was necessary, and the hardest of all things to do.
I feel like extolling on my point here, thin as it is, will only further diverge from my original intent, and indeed, as much as I praise great men who said in fewer words what took me longer, and as much as it is cliche, sometimes a picture is worth all the words one man might post to make his point.
One of my film teachers showed us some footage from the night before this photo took place. Of bodies being hauled from the square, blood and fear crackling in the air amongst the rifle shots.
I don’t know if anyone will ever truly know the body count, how long the purges went on, or how men in power could get to the point of letting madness like this go on. And that frustration, that anger, the rage at knowing what had happened, it made one man stand there and say, ‘Enough!’ Make him stand in that crosswalk and show us all that sometimes, standing there might be all you can do, and all you need to know. Maybe the most iconic image of a man’s stand against the tyranny of his fellow men, and he didn’t need a rifle or a speech or a flag. He just need to stand in the street, and let the tanks come.
And in all likelihood they dragged him off and killed him in a gutter somewhere, but for one moment, frozen in time, the message to the rest of us is clear- sometimes all it takes is for you to hold your ground, damn the odds.
So I guess I’m trying to say thanks- to the man in the white shirt, for your desperate frustration 24 years passed, to the young boys who died on bloody beaches in Northern France 69 years ago, to all those people who realize the threat of being laughed at or booed or imprisoned or tortured or killed, and stand up anyway and say, ‘NO! You move.‘
Have a good night everybody.
P.S.- The whole movie of The 13th Warrior is available on Youtube: