Over the Top

One of the various things I wanted to be when I grew up was a truck driver.

My dream of one day becoming a trucker was inspired by the film Over the Top, starring Sylvester Stallone. The truck is a powerful machine and (symbolically at least) the trucker is a strong man. A truck symbolizes strength. It is therefore a very “manly” vehicle and being a truck driver a very manly occupation that boys my romanticize like being a cowboy or a fireman. The trucker is a loner, a lone wolf, an outsider, but it is a self-chosen outsidership; like the lone cowboy that rides off into the sunset, so the trucker and his trusty truck disappears over the horizon along an endless highway. A truck also symbolizes freedom as it treks over thousands of kilometers to transport its cargo. Because it is always on the move, it is like the proverbial rolling stone that gathers no moss.

I don't think I saw the movie Over the Top when it first came out in 1987, maybe a few years later only. However, when I did see it, it profoundly resonated with me, particularly because of the theme the story addressed, that of a father and son that are estranged from each other. The plot revolves around a father and son with little in common that takes a road trip together in the father's truck; slowly they get to know each other, until, of course, a bond of love and trust is developed. During the trip the preppy boy is taught the “art of manliness” from his father. As John Eldredge so famously says in his book Wild at Heart, “masculinity is bestowed” from father to son. The film shows how a father tries to amend for the distance between him and his son. The son, with much resistance at first, soaks in his father's presence. While his father may not be perfect, he is however a man and thus an example of what it is to be a man—something this boy did not have because his parents were divorced and he grew up with his mother. It was this aspect in the movie that struck a chord in me.

My parents were not divorced but my father was a workaholic with little time to spend with his children. I also got the impression very early on that he had given over the raising of me to my mother. The reason was possibly because my father and I were complete opposites in temperament and personality. People often made the remark: “You are your mother's child,” with which they meant how much my mother and I were alike. As far as my father was concerned, I was definitely not a chip of the old block. Yet, there came a time in my development that I longed for a father to show me the path towards manhood. This is simply something a mother cannot teach her son. Unfortunately I never did get that guidance from my father.

Every time I watched Over the Top, and I did so many, many times, I terribly longed for the relationship that the boy Michael develops with his dad Lincoln. Unfortunately it never happened in my life story. Yet, the film in a sad way did function as a fictional substitute. I lived myself into the characters and saturated in the father-son relationship the film depicted. And I think I cried at the end of the film every time I saw it. I cried because I was happy for the father which Michael had gained and I cried because I didn't have that.

Wait—the film isn't halfway as melodramatic as I make it seem. It is actually much more of a clichéd action-drama-sport movie based on the underground trucker sport of arm-wrestling where Sylvester Stallone get's to show-off his big arms and the veins bulging in his neck. Imagine Animal Planet showing male animals sparring for dominance with the younger male animals looking on and learning from the adults and then mimicking their behaviour. This is definitely not a movie that feminist critics who frown on manly aggression and the smell of testosterone will condone. What it is, however, is a drama catered for men—for fathers and sons—and in this it succeeds wonderfully.

I haven't seen the film in probably 20 years, but recently got hold of it again and am sure to watch it when I have an opportunity. However, last year I went to see another film, which in my opinion is just a sci-fi remake of Over the Top, namely the film Real Steal (2011). Or if not a remake, then at least it is safe to say that Real Steal, starring Hugh Jackman, was heavily inspired by Over the Top. I hope that Real Steal do to many boys what Over the Top did for me.

And who knows, maybe one day I will have a career change and become a trucker and drive into the sunset with the open road before me.

To read a detailed synopsis of the film with some screen shots, look here.


Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I few days ago I started to rewatch the Terminator movies. One of my favourite childhood movies had always been Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). The film was avant-garde in both the action and science-fiction genres and the CGI was the most advanced in the film industry at that time. Judgement Day received six academy award nominations of which it won four, and numerous other awards, including five Saturn Awards, and six MTV Movie Awards. Apart from the high tech special effects that surpassed the first Terminator film, the acting in the sequel was particularly good, and the character Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, wonderfully blossomed from the flat girl-in-distress character in the first movie, to a very well developed, round character in the second. Had the teenage me known that the MTV Movie Award bestowed upon Linda Hamilton the “Most Desirable Female” award, I would definitely had agreed. I remember when I first got an internet connection in 1995/6, “Linda Hamilton” was one of the very first celebrities I searched for online.

But my obsession with the strong female character was not the reason I liked the movie that much. It was more likely because of the other leading role, the character John Connor, played by Edward Furlong. The character John Connor was about 13 years of age, about the same age as myself, so I could identify with him. I never realised how much I identified with the character, and for what reasons, until I rewatched the movie a few days ago. Over twenty years later I have enough distance to look at the film and my younger self with some objectivity and a sense of insight.

John Connor was an outsider. He was rather rebellious, much more than myself, but this was at an age when I also felt a sense of rebellion. He also had, what he thought was, a crazy mother. The film starts with Sarah Connor in an insane asylum. My mother had never been in an insane asylum, but she did suffer from mental illness brought on by physiological causes. I could associate with John Connor; I could understand how he felt.

The fact that John Connor had grown up with a constant sense of caution and an awareness of potential violence is something else I shared with him, and it is this particular similarity that I did not realise until I watched Judgement Day again recently. The reason I had not realised this similarity before is because when I grew up I thought it was normal—it was such a part of my life.

The riots in South Africa in the 80s and early 90s
were often violent.
(Image Source)
I grew up right against Sebokeng -- and in particular the notoriously violent Zone 13 -- a short jog from Evaton and a short drive from Sharpeville. These “locations”, as they are known in South Africa, were some of the most heated areas during the anti-apartheid struggle and the tumultuous riots of the eighties and nineties. During this time our lives were always in danger. I grew up with guns and learned to handle a gun from very early on. Before I had even gone to school I already knew the basics of gun safety and I had learned to shoot different guns before I had learned to drive a car. I've never taken a liking to guns, and to this day I still don't like guns, but I know how, at least, to use them. The need for guns was purely for self-protection, because in the locations there were many illegal guns (there still are) and at the time white people, as the oppressors, were the enemy. I remember so clearly the regular sound of gun fire, particularly AK-47s, at night time. (Where I currently live is right next to a military base where they often do shooting practise and the sound of gunfire can sometimes be clearly heard. My first emotion when I heard the sound was nostalgia!) From a very early age I had learned certain precautions. For instance, in the evening one was never to stand in front of a window, especially not with the lights on as this will cause your silhouette to be cast against the curtains, making you a very easy target from outside. We (my father, siblings and other men on the farm) often had to stand guard at night. As a child I had seen a man attacked with “pangas” (machetes), I heard the screams for help of someone being necklaced (a car tire put around them, gasoline poured on them, and then set alight), I had been in roadblocks—big stones rolled into the road and when you are forced to stop, your car is bombarded with rocks; by God's grace we were able to escape. My brother had been held at gunpoint twice and my father had been shot in the head. It is with this kind of violence that I had grown up and most of my childhood I had thought it all normal—thought that it is how all South Africans live. I was thinking recently, how many children have escape routes memorised and contemplate different hiding places, depending on where the enemy comes from.

(Image Source: Terminator Wiki)
Watching Judgement Day again and seeing young John Connor growing up with such a sense of danger and constant anticipation of potential violence, I can understand why I resonated so much with this character and this movie. John Connor grew up in an environment that required constant vigilance. The villain, the Terminator T-1000, also made the abstract concrete to me. I grew up with a constant threat—a politically driven threat—that I did not understand. I did not understand why there were black people trying to hurt us, commit arson to our property, and so on. The black people I typically had contact with were people that had worked for my family for years. We cared for them and they for us. In fact, my nanny had named me and was part of our family set-up for nearly thirty years.

My nanny Emily who named me.
As a child I was fluent in Sesotho, the native tongue of the area, and I played with the black children in the area. I did not understand the extend of the injustices of apartheid and while my family undoubtedly had a racist side, I also sympathised with the anti-apartheid activists. I still remember telling my parents that I think, had I been born black, I would also have rioted too, to which they agreed. So the whole political situation was a complex mess that I couldn't wrap my head around—but the Terminator T-1000, like most Hollywood villains, was simple. It was an “other” and was clearly evil. Even though the movie is science-fiction, it explained the world in the simple dichotomies of good and evil.

The T-1000 Terminator sent
back through time to
kill John Connor.
(Image Source: Terminator Wiki)
For years I had thought that the reason the film was such a favourite was because of its special effects and my love for speculative fiction, and I'm sure that definite contributed to it. However, in hindsight I recognize that this film spoke to me at a much deeper level. It played out the archetypes that were present in my own life, and in a strange way helped my subconscious, not so much to make sense of the word, but at least create a sense of alternate normality. I was not the only 13 year old boy who lived in a dangerous world.

(This post may make it seem as if I lived in a war zone under constant threat of death and that I had a most dreadful childhood. This is not the case. There were many periods in my childhood where the threat was insignificant. The political anger came in sweeps, in seasons of high and low intensity, so that I did not always feel threatened, although the area we live did require constant vigilance.)


Rob Roy

While most people like Mel Gibson's Brave Heart (1995), I prefer the other action-drama based on Scottish history to have come out that year -- Michael Caton-Jones' Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange.

Yes, Gibson's film was a grand epic adventure full of action and heroism, but it just never convinced me. The big scene at the end where William Wallace shouts "FREEDOM!" will give any a man goosebumps, but it just seemed too . . . too Gibsonish. The film adaptation of Robert Roy MacGregor's story was much smaller in scale, and much more personal. Both the Wallace and MacGregor characters show tremendous bravery, but Rob Roy shows something more -- a type of honour, that to me, makes bravery seem a dime-a-dozen. A pride in one's word; placing value on truth. I assume that because such things are of importance to me, are part of my value system, that this story spoke so greatly to me.

In the film Rob Roy has a kingliness about him that emanates from him. It is a type of self-knowledge that does not require him to prove himself, and therefore does not require him to fight every battle blindly. He does not cower from a battle, but he knows which are true battles based on values, and which are not. He has a calmness and a wisdom that I admire. Similarly his wife, Mary MacGregor, has an admirable strength about her. There is a horrific scene of sexual violence from which Mary gets up, composes herself, and walks upright with a dignity becoming a queen. It's a scene that makes my heart stop every time I see it.

I just admired the inner-character of these characters. I loved the way this husband and wife respected and loved each other. As an adolescent, it showed me a type of being -- a type of man, a type of husband, a type of father -- I wish to be, and it showed me the type of wife and marriage I hoped for. (Back in the day when I still hoped for such things.)



A movie that influenced me a lot, but in a negative way, was Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000). The film narrates the tale of the erotic writer the Marquis de Sade of 18th Century France. The Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) stays at an insane asylum where his books are smuggled out of the asylum by the laundress Madeline (Kate Winslet). The film, containing many scenes of sex and violence – including necrophilia, won three Oscars.

Never has a film affected me so negatively. My head felt literally polluted after I saw this film. I felt completely disgusted and dirty. For the first time in my life did I really understand how media can pollute our minds. After seeing Quills I did not watch another film for six months thereafter. I used to be a film critic back then – well, that was pretty much the end of that career for me.

The reason the film had such a strong impact on me is probably because it is so well done. It's an engaging story, with great acting, and superb cinematography. It swallows you in and by the end of the film your mind has been violated. I think what I learned from this film, more than any movie I have seen before, is the negative effect that cinema can have. Movies are not neutral, their messages are not unbiased, and that they affect us are undeniable and not always positive. After this film I have become much more selective in what I choose to watch.


Blade Runner

I don’t think I’ve watched Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Blade Runner, as many times as I have watched the other old movies I’ve mentioned so far. Regardless, the lasting impression this film had on me is undeniably remarkable. The last time I saw it was in 2000 at university for “Film Theory and Critique”. I wanted to do a project on it, but after seeing it again since my childhood I just couldn’t get enough distance to write objectively about it. It is nine years later now. Watching it again just now had me captivated. As scene for scene rolled by, it felt to me intensely personal – as if these surreal images were my memories. Of course, they are memories, but not my memories. But then again, could my little mind recognise the difference? The movie dates 1982; I was still a toddler when it came out. I can’t remember when I saw it for the first time, but it couldn’t have been too long after its release date, and a number of times throughout my early years thereafter. And so the cinematic images became part of my childhood, part of me, like the fake memories implanted into the androids depicted in the movie. Reflecting on my childhood memories, the dystopian cityscape with its air pollution and gas burners, the flying cars and overcrowded streets in those bizarre Oriental-markets seems as real, or as distant, as some of my supposedly real memories from childhood. And here I am in the Orient now. There are no flying cars, but on a rainy evening in one of Seoul’s downtown markets with its dreamy juxtaposition of bright lights and side-street butcher-restaurants it is difficult to distinguish between sci-fi and reality.

As was the case in 2000, still I cannot write objectively about Blade Runner. Nevertheless, it is a classic movie; a trendsetter that impacted many a sci-fi film to come; a deeply emotional rendition of the android/cyborg-dilemma, without getting sentimental.
Blade Runner is based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Daryl Hannah. Jordan Cronenweth was responsible for the excellent cinematography.

Watch the trailer below:

Below is the “I’ve seen things”-scene. If watched out of context it will probably not be as beautiful as it is within the flow of the movie where it captures a host of conflicting emotions as one exquisite moment. Don’t watch it if you haven’t seen the movie as it might be a spoiler.


Best of the Best

A movie that really impacted my life is Best of the Best (1989). This movie, about the Korean martial art Taekwon-Do, is one of a sequence of exposures that caused me to take up Taekwon-Do when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I saw the movie, was touched and awed by it, and soon afterwards saw an advertisement for Taekwon-Do with the tag: “As seen in Best of the Best”. I was sold. And so started my love affair with Taekwon-Do. I’ve always been interested in the martial arts, have trained in many, but have always return to Taekwon-Do as my base.

The movie Best of the Best is not your typical martial art film. It is more a drama than an action movie. The story, although somewhat simplistic, is layered with depth and the acting is surprisingly good (for a martial art movie). The performance by Eric Roberts is especially riveting. I’m yet to meet someone who has not choked up while watching Best of the Best. I personally cry every time I see it.

Apart from Philip Rhee’s great martial art skill, the Best of the Best-sequels are not that good.


Interview with the Vampire

Several Brad Pitt movies influenced me a lot when I was young. Foremost among them is probably Interview with the Vampire (1994), based on the first novel in Anne Rice’s series The Vampire Chronicles (1976). The first novel, and subsequent movie, influenced Goth culture a lot, and at that time I just happened to be a teenage Goth-New Ager.

Interview with the Vampire is the confessional narrative of a vampire, telling his epic tale of "love, betrayal, loneliness, and hunger." [Read the IMDB-synopsis.]

This was not the only vampire movie that really contributed to my present day interests and likes, but is probably the vampire movie that influenced me the most. For instance, this movie and Brahm Stoker’s Dracula (1992) both depict handsome vampires with long hair. This is probably one reason why I had long hair for approximately a decade of my adult life. If I didn’t have to cut my hair for my job I would probably still have had long hair.

Vampire movies also resonate with me because I’m somewhat of a nocturnal creature. I don’t like bright light and because of my sensitive skin tend to avoid the sun. I can also easily stay up all night and sleep most of the day. In fact, I’m much more productive in the evening. Come 10 p.m. and I have a new burst of energy, to the chagrin of my ex-girlfriend. I’m most creative early in the morning, around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.

Interview with the Vampire probably increased my obsession with the dark and mysterious. At that time I only wore black. My parents allowed my peculiarities, but they drew the line when I wanted to get black curtains and paint my room black. I think it was a good decision on their part.

And then there is something about vampires that is just immensely seductive, isn’t there? Even though I’m out of my Goth-phase, I still find vampires extremely sexy. A sensual Goth, not one full of piercings and tattoos, but one with pale skin and intense eyes can still get my heart racing.

I've seen Interview with the Vampire a host of times, although it's been quite some time since I've watched it last. I think it is high time to watch it again.

Below is a YouTube-video of the movie trailer.