Friday, 20 December 2013

O Little Town of Lobethal

Deep in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, nestled amongst orchards of fruit trees, is the charming town of  Lobethal. Lobethal in German means the ' Valley of Praise' but at this time of year it becomes the 'Valley of Lights, as the community comes together to celebrate Christmas with an amazing display of festive lights.

Founded by Prussian/German immigrants in 1842, Lobethal was an important local wool processing centre up until the early 1990's and at one stage even had its own cricket bat factory. Lobethal was also one of the South Australian German towns that had recieved a name change during the First World War, temporarily becoming Tweedvale in honour of it's primary industry. However it was in 1952 that the town started to became known for something very different, it's annual Christmas light display. Since that time thousands have flocked to the picturesque township to grab themselves a glittering slice of Christmas and witness the largest community Christmas light display in the Southern Hemisphere.

For the last few years my family and I have made the pilgrimage up to Lobethal to be there when the lights go on. Our yearly ritual is to arrive well before dark and to enjoy tea at one of the local hotels. This year we enjoyed a wonderful meal at The Lobethal Hotel before heading off to the Centenial Hall which hosts the annual Christmas markets. The main street was now beginning to fill up with people from all walks of life from around Adelaide. Makeshift stalls were set up outside house fronts, selling glow sticks and knock off light sabres to passing revellers. As is our custom, we grabbed one for each of our children so they too could become part of the light show. 

Soon we arrived at the classic art deco style Centenial Hall to investigate this years markets. As we browsed through the tables laden with local handy crafts, novelties and confectionary, we chatted to the stall holders, many familiar from previous years. Soon the pocket money was starting to burn a hole in my children's pockets and they were thrilled to find bags of chocolate reindeer poop and reindeer noses (in reality just repackaged choc-malt balls, but who'll let the truth get in the way of a good gimmick). Eventually we made our way past all the jewellery, homemade ties and beautiful country cooking, to find the stairs that led to the jolly old elf himself. However this year as we moved to join the cue, my kids indicated that they were either too cool or too terrified to sit on Santa's knee. After a bit more browsing we moved to the main street to find that the sun is beginning to set and the Christmas lights had started to go on. Buildings, previously unremarkable, suddenly popped out of the street scape, exploding with colour, fake icicles and neon reindeers.
The crowds had continued to increase when we came to the visual highlight of the evening, the fireworks display. With a take away coffee  and glow sticks in hand, we headed for our usual spot beneath the pine trees that lined the edge of the oval. With the sun finally setting, we began to get a full view of the Christmas lights in the streets nearby, and very soon the ones that started to explode through the night sky in a rainbow of colours. 
If the fireworks were the visual highlight, then the Living Nativity Scene, complete with donkeys, camels and sheep, was the spiritual centre piece of the proceedings. All ways with standing room only, this annual presentation by the local Lutheran Church commmunity capped off the evenings proceedings. With this pride of place, the Nativity Scene demonstrated that the Lobethal Lights is not just about Father Christmas and faux snow in the summer heat. It is primarily the celebration of the birth of the King of Kings, the man who sought to reconcile humanity to God and to one another. This is what I love about the Lobethal lights. Rather than a commercial venture designed to part us from our hard earned dollars, here we have a community that comes together to present the wider populous with a unique Christmas Gift. It is a present that combines both the cultural festivities and trimmings of the Christmas season with its true spiritual core, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Long may the Lobethal light up at Christmas.



Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Jungle is my Home: Back to Eden

'Home? I have no home,........ the jungle is my home'. These words, written by Edward D. Wood Jnr and spoken by Bela Lugosi, have always rung a bell deep with in me. Somewhere far away from here is a place free from care, were the lion lays down with the lamb, where humanity and nature meet in a peaceful embrace. You see it in the eyes of a child playing with their dog, the lady stroking her cat, the older man feeding his pigeons. It's why we visit zoos and give into the allure of going off road. It's that dream of a tranquil place where the connection to the earth is solid and the cares of civilization are far away. A place where the mortal dwells with the divine. A place where the lost child comes home. A place where conflict becomes peace. Deep with in us there is a desire to return to Eden.

I first tasted this beautiful fruit as a child. At the age of four my parents took me to Queensland, Australia, located on the Tropic of Capricorn. After several days of driving we had left the dry heat of Adelaide to enjoy the humidity of more northern climes. It was there that my parents took me to my first rainforest. As I've gotten older I haven't forgotten the great buttress root trees, the ferns, stag horns and the flowing waterfalls teaming with frogs.  We walked along the paths that cut their way through dense undergrowth, admiring the glistening green beauty of the lush vegetation and the striking colours of the forest butterflies. Some of the memories of my four year old self may have been embellished as times gone by, but the essence of the event has stayed the same. It was the time I first made a meaningful connection with the ancient garden and I've never forgotten it.

At about the age of 10 I discovered the world of Tarzan. I loved the idea of living deep within the jungle surrounded by the birds of paradise, lush vegetation and cooling streams. It was a place where the cares of humanity were far away and only the law of the jungle held sway. The jungle was symbolic of a place of peace and freedom. Here Tarzan could strip off the outer veneer of civilization and escape into the deep forest where all was clear and the complexity of the human society was replaced by the simplicity of the animal kingdom.
        'With the first dizzying swing from tree to tree all the old joy of living swept over him. Vain     regrets and dull heartache were all forgotten. Now was he living. Now, indeed, was the true happiness of perfect freedom his. Who would go back to the stifling, wicked cities of civilized man when the mighty reaches of the of the great jungle offered peace and liberty? Not he (Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Return of Tarzan, 1913, pg 119).'
My 11 year old self enjoying the adventures of the Jungle Lord.

In Tarzan's kingdom, although death was around every corner, it was death based on survival, not greed or sport. Here one could befriend the great beasts and commune with the small. Here one is intimately connected with the greater web of life and, in so doing, made whole.

As graphic a picture these words conjure, it was when I first watched Tarzan the Ape Man (1959) that this idea spoke clearest to me in the cinematic versions of Tarzan. It happened in the scene where Tarzan takes Jane for her first swim in his jungle lagoon. In vivid colour, the couple swim through the clear water, bustling with hippopotami, a baby elephant, tame lions, flamingos, and even a peacock thrown in for good measure. Despite the chilly reality behind the film shoot, (, the vision of a warm, earthly paradise is beautifully depicted. It's where the world weary Jane begins to see that Tarzan's world is a place where she could find something that civilization hasn't been able to offer. It's a place where I, the viewer, also long to dwell. An earthly Paradise far from the evil ways of men. This is where Adam can frolic with Eve with out shame. The place where every thing finally makes sense.

It's no coincidence that this idea is not only found on the page and screen of adventure fiction, but in the ziggurats and halls of ancient civilization. It was not only in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that the need to connect with nature was expressed, but in the ancient heartland of Judeo-Christian religion. When walking through the court yards of the great ancient Temple in Jerusalem, one would eventually come, providing you weren't stopped by the temple guards, to the Outer Sanctuary. This was the area immediately outside the Inner Sanctuary or Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant, the physical throne of the unseen God of Israel, was kept. The Outer Sanctuary contained the seven branched candlestick called the Menorah, which was associated with the Tree of Life (Margaret Barker, The Lost Prophet, 1988, pg 55) which, according to the Book of Genesis, was found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2: 9). The walls of the Outer Sanctuary were also covered in images of flowers, fruits and plants as well as doors covered in depictions of palms, angelic beings and more flowers (1 Kings: 6). If the Holy of Holies was the throne room of  the God of Israel then the Outer Sanctuary was representative of Eden, the sacred royal garden. Eden or Paradise, that heavenly garden we all seek to return to, was an integral part of the formal religious life of Israel. Then, just as now, when humanity seeks to commune with the divine, it is often sought in the surrounds of a garden.

Closely connected with the design and function of the Jerusalem Temple is the story that has become the primary origin narrative of Western Civilization. The story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden once again tells the story of dislocation from that place of tranquillity. The story describes the beginning of human history when man and woman walked with God in a Garden known as Eden or Paradise. In the garden there were two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man and woman were able to eat from any tree in the garden except the Tree of the Knowledge. It's after humanity has been tricked into eating from the forbidden tree by a serpent that they are expelled from the garden. Why are they expelled? Humanity leaves the garden because they are no longer innocent enough to stay.

          Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—  therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3: 22-24).

Humanity is now too dangerous to stay in the primordial garden. They know too much and risk becoming immortal. They now potentially challenge the power of the creator himself.  It is at this point that humanity begins travelling down the path that leads to civilization. Instead of living off of Paradise, they must grow their own gardens, work the earth they had emerged from. Thus the stone age is left behind and the agrarian revolution begins. The hunter gatherer becomes the settled farmer and we've longed to return to the divine garden ever since.
We also see this longing for Eden when we come to the end of life. As a minister of religion I have stood in many memorial garden's located  in beautifully landscaped cemeteries. The idea of our loved one's earthly remains resting in the midst of a garden is of great comfort. Although they are gone, they are now at one again with nature, dwellers in the divine garden. In the Gospel of Luke, during the crucifixion, an interesting conversation between Jesus and the criminal hanging next to him is recorded.
          Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (NRSV Luke 23: 42-43)

Paradise is not only the divine royal garden but the abode of the righteous dead. The longing one feels to return there can only truly be fulfilled on the other side of the grave. No matter the beauty of earthly paradises, the true divine garden is now only accessible when the Tree of Life is needed the most, when one has been consumed by death and become one with the earth again.

Deep within the psyche of our species is the need to reconnect with the jungle we left behind. It's a need that that resonates through the whole of life and inhabits our cultural day dreams, religious hopes and even our leisure time. But sadly it's antithesis, civilisation, that mock attempt at creating our ideal environ with its timber mills, plantations and mines, threatens to destroy the earthly paradise. If we are not careful our self made concrete jungle may destroy this great 'foretaste of glory divine' forever.

'The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago' (Dr Zaius, 3955 AD, orangutan and descendant of palm plantation survivors, Planet of the Apes, 1968).

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Django, Drag Your Coffin

Recently I've gone on a Spaghetti Western adventure. There's something about the five o'clock shadows, the surreal camera angles, non-verbal heroes, and the blaring trumpet and jew's harp soundtracks that are so entrancing. Recently I'd come across the movie Django. I owned a copy of A Few Dollars for Django and Cjamango (billed as Django: Kreuze im blutigen Sand in my copy) already, and not having yet seen Tarantino's Django Unchained, I knew I wanted to check out the original. Django was released in 1965 following on the international success of Sergio Leonie's A Fist full of Dollars. Like it's predecessor, it was filmed in Spain and featured a mysterious stranger that wanders into town. This newcomer arrives with a seemingly secret agenda that ends with all the power brokers dead, some innocents saved and his objectives achieved. Django is a demobbed union soldier who arrives dragging a coffin. When asked who is in the coffin, he merely answers 'Django'. A man who carries his own coffin. This is a powerful image that leaves a strong impression on the viewer.

The reason I find this to be such a profound trope is that the older I get the more I realize that life is richer and more precious when we accept our mortality. Those of us in the first world live our lives in denial of our mortality. Where as our cousins in developing countries see each day of life as another victory against the ever present grave, we see death as a rude intruder that will one day wrongfully bring our life to an end. When their children survive into adulthood it is a blessing, when our children die young it is a crime against nature.  For them death is a part of life. For us death is something alien, a force that needs to be ignored until we can't escape it anymore.

Sadly, when we deny our mortality we  can tend to lose sight of what's important. We begin to live under the illusion that we have all the time in the world. We can invest our time in things that are good and get caught up in the urgent, postponing the things that are important for another day. Sadly things die and we can find ourselves living in regret when we realize it's too late.

As a minister of religion there are many times when death has been part of my job. I've prayed with the dying, sat with the family as they've grieved and held the hand of a person as they've left this life. I've performed funerals and scattered ashes. I've come to realize that death is actually our daily companion and  I've had to work out the things that are truly important. People are more important than things, family is more important that work, what you can give is better than what you can gain. I imagine that when I'm on my death bed it will be the way I've loved the people in my life that will matter not the things I've amassed.

An important fact of life is that death is our constant companion. Although we like to pretend that we are immortal, the time of our demise can come at anytime. Jesus of Nazareth said 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8: 34).' Jesus was under no illusion that the life worth living was one that embraced death. He encouraged all that would follow him and his vision to see that death was an ever present companion. In fact the way to life was to die to those things that seem to be important and invest in those things that truly are. Hanging on his own cross, I don't imagine Jesus regretted standing up for the outcasts of society and wishing he'd made more money in carpentry. He'd chosen wisely and his death and resurrection would change the course of history .

 Like Django we need to drag our coffin behind us everyday. Not a literal coffin but the constant awareness that life is short and that we need to make the most of the time we have. This means prioritising our dreams, choosing the best over the good, cherishing family and friends and enjoying the journey. Like Django, dragging our coffin behind us may be the secret to our success in life.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Lifted up by Angels

One of the challenges of being a Salvation Army Officer is that you never know where you're going to end up. Just when you know where you are and what you are doing, the phone may ring and it may be time to pack your bags  and set your nose towards your next appointment.  It can be both unsettling and exciting as the possibilities of a new community and experiences begin to open up before you.  It can also be an immensely destabilizing experience, especially for those of us with less nomadic tendencies. It can leave you hesitant to get too close to people and content to merely skim along the surface of ministry, as the procession of appointments roll past. This is not only a dilemma of the Salvation Army Officer but of individuals in many other occupations. In fact if the gate is really swung open, it's just life. Often we're led into places we really don't want to go. From  unexpected illness to new dynamics in relationships, we sometimes find ourselves strangers in a strange land. Life reaches out, grabs us by the hair and drags us on.

One of my favourite passages from the Greek version of the Book of Daniel, found in the Apocrypha as Bel and the Dragon, is the place where the prophet Habakkuk is sent to to Babylon to help the prophet Daniel. In a repeat of the earlier incident under King Darius, Daniel has been sent once again to the lions den, this time for exposing the fraudulent practices and false god's of Babylonian religion.

They threw Daniel into the lions’ den, and he was there for six days. There were seven lions in the den, and every day they had been given two human bodies and two sheep; but now they were given nothing, so that they would devour Daniel.
 Now the prophet Habakkuk was in Judea; he had made a stew and had broken bread into a bowl, and was going into the field to take it to the reapers.  But the angel of the Lord said to Habakkuk, “Take the food that you have to Babylon, to Daniel, in the lions’ den.”  Habakkuk said, “Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I know nothing about the den.”  Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head and carried him by his hair; with the speed of the wind he set him down in Babylon, right over the den.
Then Habakkuk shouted, “Daniel, Daniel! Take the food that God has sent you.”   Daniel said, “You have remembered me, O God, and have not forsaken those who love you.”  So Daniel got up and ate. And the angel of God immediately returned Habakkuk to his own place (Bel and the Dragon: 31-39, NRSV). 

When I first read this, I really felt for Habakkuk. The poor old prophet is going about his business, caring for the labourers of his community, when he is ripped unceremoniously out of familiar surroundings and dropped off hundreds of miles away on the edge of a lions den. His good intentions had taken a left turn. The food meant for the labourers left in the Jewish homeland was now being used to feed a prophet living in the Babylonian captivity. To paraphrase John Lennon, life was happening while  Habakkuk was making other plans.

This is what life is like. All our best intentions can be turned on their heads with in minutes. Whether it be the call of God, an accident, a pay rise or redundancy, we need to make the most of where life drags us. The people I admire are those that make the most of where they find themselves. Like MacGyver or the A-Team, they take the rubbish of life and set it to work for the better. Whether it be a man with muscular dystrophy running the marathon, the quadriplegic movie star who uses his profile to raise awareness and fund research, or the parent who starts a support group for others after losing a child, they've all taken life's rubbish and turned it into something positive. No matter how bad your day or how rotten your circumstances, it's always within your power to make a difference to someone else. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word or action to make a world difference. We can't choose where life's angels take us but we can choose what we do when we get there.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Anxiety: White Knuckeling Life

The Scream 
The man crouches in the trenches waiting to go over the top. Waiting for him is near certain death in the face of enemy machine gun fire. The adrenaline pumps, his pulse races, he feels sick in his stomach and weak at the knees, as he prepares to charge the guns…

The woman sits in her chair waiting for the time to go to work. Clinging to her is a cloud of dread growing at the thought of leaving home. The adrenaline pumps, her pulse races, she feels sick in her stomach and weak at the knees, as she prepares to face the routines of the day...

The situations are different, one of possible death, the other so mundane as to be boring. However for these two individuals the sensations are the same. The body's fight or flight response has been engaged and war is ready to be waged. For the second individual the war is an internal one. Welcome to the world of anxiety disorders.

According to my surfing on Google, around 3 million Australians, and a whole lot more world wide, suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Some may suffer from panic attacks, some from obsessive compulsive disorder, some from phobias and others (possibly the soldier mentioned earlier following his combat experiences) from post traumatic stress disorder amongst others. Finally they may suffer from the all encompassing creeping dread known as General Anxiety Disorder or GAD. From the description given you may have guest that its the last one listed that I know all too well.

Anxiety is the lesser known cousin of depression and sadly the two often choose to hang out with one another. Depression often arrives as the sufferer struggles with the debilitating physical and mental effects of anxiety.  It's sometimes the bi-product of the deep sense of mental entrapment and the consequences of life choices often based on avoidance. Anxiety is a vicious cycle, your fight or flight mechanism is engaged, everything with in you says run, whether to stay and fight or flee from the coming storm. If you stay you struggle through the nervous bumbling, poor thought processing, weak knees and physical aches. If you run you suffer the guilt of having avoided responsibility and the knowledge that the problem has only been delayed. Either way you're emotionally exhausted and long for a place free from care or demands. Outside of death or the temporary oblivion of the bottle, this place usually doesn't exist. And all this anxiety because you may need to speak to someone, or they may need to speak to you. Sometimes it's just the fear of the unknown and sadly sometimes it just is what it is, like a yapping terrier snapping at your mental heals.

People can be very helpful, VERY helpful! Some will tell you to just stop it and get over it, as though you've never tried to do so before. Others will helpfully encourage you to stop worrying, as if the toaster with the broken switch can stop toasting. Others will helpfully inform you that it's all in your mind, as though their own interactions with the world weren't based on external stimuli, chemical reactions and thought processes on and in their brains. Many just want to explain your experience away because it seems all to hard for to them to accept its existence. Obviously you are lazy and forgetful and just need a good kick up the backside. All you need to do is toughen up princess and get on with it. To their sceptical mind, the sufferer is a threat to their understanding of how the world should work. However those with a knowledge of anxiety, and a helpful dose of mercy, can be immeasurably helpful. They can bring great soothing to the heart of the anxiety suffer, a sense of being normal and not some emotional freak show.

But it's not all doom and gloom for those suffering anxiety. There are some things that may alleviate the suffering. Medications have come ahead in leaps and bounds and can help the chemical imbalances in the mind that cause anxiety. A good diet can help, along with plenty of sunlight and frequent exercise.  Rational behaviour therapy and self hypnosis are also useful. I've found in recent days that gardening has been immeasurably helpful to me in lightening my mood, as well as walking/running and prayer. The flipside is that anxiety often conspires to make you avoid doing the very things that will bring you relief. Instead of going for a much needed walk, you are so freaked out that you are too paralysed to climb off the couch. Throw in some self medication: comfort eating, obsessive shopping, and worse, mind altering drugs (i.e. alcohol), gambling, anxiety driven anger and violence, and there's a dangerous cocktail of  destruction of self and others. Personally, while fighting off comfort eating and shopping, I'm leaning towards the walk. It doesn't cure the anxiety but it does help alleviate it.

Ultimately it is my faith in God that has helped me stay buoyant when so much with in me tells me to sink. I've learnt to become a pessimistic optimist. Although there is negativity in my wiring, there is so many good things in my life. I have a beautiful family, good friends, a God who loves me and a future that, although inevitably not problem and grief free, is one of hope and opportunity. Increasingly I'm beginning to realise that through my own adversity, all in my head as it is, I'm able to connect with others who are suffering like wise. It is so important that anxiety sufferers realise that they are normal, worthwhile people who have much to offer and that there is help available. Most of all, they need to realise that, no matter how hard well meaning people try to convince them otherwise, their anxiety is not their fault.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Tarzan the Apeman (1959): Tarzan and the Period Drama

When one thinks of a period piece certain names come to mind. Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes and many of the other names of classic English literature from the Victorian Era and there abouts would probably be on the list. However it wasn't  until 1959 that Tarzan also joined these giants of period drama, a move that would prefigure much of the approaches taken to the character on screen through the 80's and until the present time.

In 1958 producer Sol Lesser, who had owned the movie rights to the Tarzan character since the early 1930's, decided move on from producing the screen adventures of the Lord of the Jungle. During a period of 10 years, Lesser, for a fee, had allowed MGM to make their famous Tarzan series starring Johnny Weissmuller. In 1943 Lesser had continued making the series himself, initially with Weissmuller, when MGM had decided to drop the series. After producing 14 more Tarzan features, Lesser himself, after unsuccessfully trying to bring Tarzan to television, now wanted to move on from producing Tarzan. It was at this time that Lesser sold the rights to fledgling producer Sy Weintraub, who promptly set about revamping the series to great success. But MGM had plans of it's own. After distributing the last two Lesser Tarzan projects, MGM had renewed interest in the character it had brought to the world of sound in 1932 and sought to make another feature of their own before the rights changed hands. This decision did not please Weintraub, who initially threatened litigation against MGM, however the studio continued to go ahead with their plans.  The new low budget movie was to be produced by B movie specialist Al Zimbalist, famous for classic B movies such as the Robot Monster (1953) and King Dinosaur (1955). Zimbalist was in the process of producing a series of low budget features set in Africa, utilizing footage from 1950's King Solomon's Mines. Other films in this group were Watusi (1959), a sequel to Kings Solomon's Mines, and Drums of Africa (1963). The new Tarzan film would also feature footage from King Solomon's Mines and would be helmed by Joseph M Newman, director of the sci-fi classic This Island Earth (1955). The production would be a remake of the MGM hit, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), which itself was a loose adaption of the original Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although a remake, it was the first time that the origin story of the Ape Man, at least the origin of his discovery and relationship with Jane, was to be shot in colour. Tarzan the Ape Man premiered in 1959, the same year that Weintraub released his Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, starring Gordon Scott in his fourth outing as the Ape Man.

In spite of its low production values, the movie featured a solid cast that brought a sense of class to the proceedings. Up and coming actress Joanna Barnes took the role of the world weary Jane Parker, who arrives in Africa to meet up with her adventurer father, Col. James Parker (Robert Douglas) when her finances, and fiancĂ©, have run out. Italian actor Cesare Donava brought a very European take to Harry Holt, Parker's business partner and suitor for Jane's affections. The cast also features Thomas Yangha as Riano, a Watusi who leads the Parker expedition to the legendary Mutia escarpment, the gateway to the fabled elephant's graveyard. However the title role of Tarzan was given to contract player and UCLA basketballer, Denny Miller, who, in his third acting role, would have the distinction of being the first blonde Tarzan. Despite having little to say, Miller had a great screen presence which enabled him to deliver a likable performance as a strong but endearing ape man. His portrayal of Tarzan would also see the return of the classic MGM Tarzan cry which was last used in Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942). The movie also features an excellent jazz score by Shorty Rogers, that drives the movie along, beautifully underscoring the exotic locations and action in the film.

The plot by and large follows that of the original 1932 version. Jane and company head off to climb the Mutia escarpment in order to locate the elephants graveyard. On the way Jane meets Tarzan, who kidnaps the beautiful stranger and takes her back to his tree house and ape family. Tarzan, clearly taken with the strange female. eventually convinces Jane that he means her no harm and receives his first lesson in the English language.  Eventually, while Tarzan is away, Jane is discovered by Parker, Riano, and Holt, the latter shooting one of Tarzan's ape tribe, and then firing at Tarzan upon his return. As the expedition leaves, Tarzan follows the group over the escarpment and arrives in time to rescue some of them from a savage tribe of pygmies who are determined to sacrifice them to the fires of their horned God. In the end only Holt, Tarzan and Jane survive to see the elephants graveyard, with the latter two choosing to stay in the jungle together. In the end only Holt leaves the jungle, returning to civilization with his fortune in ivory. Unlike the original, where the majority of the action, including the discovery of Tarzan, takes place on top of the Mutia escarpment, the first half of this  movie is set in the low lands. Here the climbing of the alp like escarpment marks the second stage of the narrative, which sees Jane and the Parker expedition seek after the elephant's graveyard and Tarzan, with some help from Cheeta, seek after the strange but beautiful stranger.

Much of the criticism levelled at this film is due to its use of stock footage. Especially noticeable is the use of black and white footage from Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and his Mate (1934). Although attempts were made to make it blend in with the colour footage through the use of colour tinting, the end result is at most times unconvincing and jarring. However the use of colour stock footage is a different matter. The use of footage from King Solomon's Mines fits into the new movie seamlessly and if anything brings to the movie a bigger visual scope that it may not have had other wise. In order to assist in the combining of footage, the costumes from King Solomon's Mines were duplicated for the characters of this film, an economical decision that actually had the unintended effect of making this film an important film text within the Tarzan corpus. Until Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan had  always been presented as a modern character. Even the films that were released over the following decade would work hard at establishing Tarzan as a character quite at home in the world of the 1960's. But Tarzan the Ape Man is a period piece, seemingly taking place, as King Solomon's Mines and the original Tarzan novel does, near the turn of the last century. This idea of Tarzan as a period character would eventually take root during the 80's and 90's, when films like the next remake Tarzan the Ape Man (1981), the Stanley S. Canter produced duo Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984) and Tarzan and the Lost City (1998), the 3 Disney's Tarzan animated features, and Joe Lara's TV series Tarzan the Epic Adventures (1996), all presented Tarzan as taking place during the very early years of the 20th century. Even the most recent attempts at bringing a new live action Tarzan feature to the screen seem to have been toying with a period setting.

Far from being just another B jungle flick, Tarzan the Ape Man is an enjoyable instalment to the series that, although suffering at times from the limitations of it's budget, presents some firsts for the series. The most influential of these is the presentation of Tarzan and Jane as period characters, an approach that has continued to flourish until the present era.


Last year we saw the centenary celebrations of Tarzan of the Apes. But the milestones for the character this decade are not over. 2018 sees the 100th anniversary of Tarzan on film and to celebrate this milestone I would love to see this movie, Tarzan the Ape Man, officially released on DVD and finally given the treatment it deserves. Just as Star Wars and some episodes of the classic low budget Sci-Fi series Doctor Who have be given recent make overs, I would love to see this movie attended to with some of the SFX healing power that digital technology can bring. I would love to see the black white stock footage colourised, taking colour cues from the rest of the movie. I would love to see the scenes featuring super imposition tinkered with digitally to decrease the obvious contrast between the combined images. I would even love to see the scenes with both black and white footage with colour super imposition attended too  Finally, as cute as it is, there's a certain rubber leopard that needs to be replaced by footage of a real one. I know that this sounds like the daydreams of a fan and to some may seem like trying to needlessly undo history. However I have great affection for this movie and even the original novel, Tarzan of the Apes had the opportunity to be revised, seeing Sabor the tiger replaced with Sabor the lioness. All I ask is that Tarzan the Ape Man gets to have the same opportunity


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Doctor Who 1.5: The Legacy of Peter Cushing

As Doctor Who fans hold their breath in expectation while the 12th incarnation of the Doctor prepares to make his big entrance, I'd like to spend a moment reflecting on the one I've  always seen as the forgotten Doctor. No I'm not talking about Hideyo Amamoto who played an identically named villain in the 1967 movie "King Kong Escapes.'  I'm actually talking about the second actor to play the good TARDIS dweller, Peter Cushing.

In 1965 the first Dalek TV story was adapted for the big screen as Doctor Who and the Daleks, which was followed by an adaption of the second Dalek story, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1966. To make the movie more accessible to international audiences unfamiliar with the show, popular British film actor Peter Cushing was chosen to play the role of Doctor Who. Famous for playing Baron Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes and many other wonderful characters, he brought a Doctor to the screen that was an extension of warm grandfatherly figure that the initially antagonistic television Doctor, played by William Hartnell, had evolved into.

At the mention of his name I can hear the cry of many purists, 'but he's not canon', 'he's presented as a human and not an alien' and 'he actually gives his name as "Doctor Who" rather than just "the Doctor". To me these are all hollow claims, seeing that at various points in the TV series he has been presented as human (Human Nature / The Family of Blood (2007), half human (The TV Movie (1994)) and even a human/timelord clone (Journey's End (2008). He has also been referred to as 'Doctor Who' during the course of a story (War Machines (1966) and the character was billed as such in the television credits from season 1 to 18. However the issue of canon is a sticky one, as his two cinematic outings in the role were merely retellings of two stories from the early television series, therefore making him a parallel version of the first incarnation of the Doctor. However in a fictional universe which is made up of 'wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff', canon is what you make it. In this universe all contradictions are merely as yet unexplained anomalies. But I think for too long Peter Cushing's stint as the Doctor has been overlooked and here I would like to present 10 points of varying gravity as to why I think his cinematic tenure needs to be celebrated by the Whovian mainstream.

Peter Cushing's Doctor Who movies...

1) Gave Doctor Who another face.
Since it's premier in 1963, the role of the Doctor was firmly in the hands of Sir William Hartnell. No one would have believed at that time that some one else could ever fill his shoes, let alone the succession of eleven actors (not counting alternate versions and stand ins). However in the 1965, the year before Patrick Troughton took over the role, Peter Cushing showed us that Doctor Who could have another face and personality.

2) Gave us bigger Daleks.
One of the main drivers of the success of the TV series was the popularity of the Daleks. It was because of this 'Dalekmania''that the good Doctor made the leap to the big screen. Compared to the television Daleks, their cinematic Daleks were bigger, had broader skirting and larger energy dispenser globes of their head domes. Not only was one of these cinematic Daleks eventually featured with in the show, albeit in a slightly modified form, but when the Daleks returned in 2005, the influence of the cinematic version in the design of these bigger Daleks was obvious.
 3) Gave us an internally lit TARDIS
One of the beautiful touches of the 2005 relaunch of the series was its use of a TARDIS prop that is internally lit. It gave the impression that there is something going on with in this strange blue box. This effect was previously only seen in the Peter Cushing films.

4) Gave us visible internal doors.
Through out the original run of the series there seemed to be no connection between the internal doors of the TARDIS and the external ones. This was a very different situation in the movies where the internal doors of the TARDIS actually look like the rear side of a set of police box doors. When the series returned in 2005, the movie style doors made their TV debut.
5) Gave us Doctor Who in colour.
From 1963 to 1969, Doctor Who was made in B&W. But on the big screen, the Doctor, Daleks and TARDIS could be seen in vivid colour for the first time. For many B&W intolerant fans of the current generation, these movies act as an olive branch from the Doctor's earlier years.
6) Gave the Doctor a cinematic legacy.
For many years in the parts of the world outside the Commonwealth, the Doctor Who television series was unknown. However due to these two movies, Doctor Who had a place, albeit not a big one, amongst the ranks of classic 60's science fiction cinema. Before the Doctor made his debut on US TV via the American PBS in the 1970's, he had already graced the big screen in the US long before.
7) Gave us Doctor Who on a bigger budget.
While the Doctor on television struggled to realise the vastness of time and space on a regular BBC drama budget, the cinematic version was able to present the good Doctor's Dalek adventures with much higher production values and on a bigger scale. Who can forget the amazing depiction of the Planet Skaro and the scenes of a ruined post apocalyptic London.
8) Gave us a Doctor with facial hair.
Well I know this might be clutching at straws, but we didn't see this in the TV series until Tom Baker played an prematurely aged Doctor with a beard in Leisure Hive (1980). We didn't see facial hair again until Matt Smith decided beards were cool…occasionally.
9) Gave us breakfast cereal product placement.
It appears that between 1966 AD and 2150 AD Sugar Puff Cereal didn't change it's ads. It is the Peter Cushing Doctor's equivalent of 'Bad Wolf', 'Sugar Puffs here, Sugar Puffs there'.
10) Gave us Bernard Cribbins as a companion.
One of the highlights of the last days of David Tennant's era was the character of  Wilfred Mott portrayed by comedy veteran Bernard Cribbins. Who can forget the tragic and moving scene as the Doctor sacrifices his 10th regeneration to save the life of this lovable man. However, those of us familiar with the Doctors' cinematic outings would have remembered Mr Cribbins' wonderful performance as Special Constable Tom Campbell in the Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966). Few would forget Tom Campbell's hilarious attempt at infiltrating the ranks of the Robomen. I must mention too that the movies also gave us my clansman, Roy Castle, as a companion. This is a fact I try to use to illicit a favourable response when talking things "doctorish' with my non-Whovian parents.

Sadly Peter Cushing never made another Doctor Who movie. The plan was to adapt another Dalek TV story, The Chase (1965) for the big screen, but box office takings for the second feature failed to meet expectations and plans were abandoned. However although the Doctor Who movie series came to an end, the adventures of the Doctor continued on the small screen. Peter Cushing went on to play many more roles, such as the very 'doctorish', Dr Abner Perry in Edgar Rice Burroughs' At The Earths Core (1976) and as the ruthless Grand Moff Tarkin in some small space fantasy movie made by George Lucas. However in this 50th year of Doctor Who, I am determined that Peter Cushing's Doctor will not be forgotten and that from here on in he will be known as the.....

 1.5th DOCTOR



Sunday, 18 August 2013

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

Beneath the sounds of the guns and crying children in the warzones of the world, there is a new message stirring. It's blowing through the hallowed halls of learning and lapping at the judgemental cloisters of religion. Round the campfires in the desert and the water coolers in the office it's beginning to stir. It says 'it's not all about you, it's about us'. 'It's not all about us, but about them too'. It sees us all as individuals and part of a whole. It says 'love your neighbour as you love yourself.' It says 'do to others as you would have them do to you'. It says 'be gracious', 'have mercy', 'seek justice' and 'let love rule'. It's about seeing those who are different as being people just like you. The crazy thing is that this message is as old as time and lost on so many. It's the principle that brought together groups of strangers during the time of the Roman Empire to follow the teachings and example of a rebel Jewish teacher and helped cement the foundations of our society. It's the principle that brings healing to broken communities and hope to damaged individuals. And I've been excited as I've seen the idea of doing good to others discussed on TV and online recently(, as well as reading about the health benefits that acts of altruism has on the human body, including positive effects on the immune system and brain function ( Moses, the prophets, as well as many of the leading minds of human history (St Paul, St James, Mohammed, Rabbi Hillel, Ghandi, Buddha, Winston Churchill, Confucius etc.), promoted this as an important guide to living a just life. St Paul called it the 'Law of Righteousness' and we've come to know it as 'The Golden Rule'.

It is the law that underpinned the teaching of Jesus Christ about the relationship between God and humanity and between person to person.   And it was Jesus who reinforced the point that it is through following the 'Golden Rule' that we show our obedience to God and that when we do God comes and dwells within us (John 14: 23).  In fact Jesus made it clear that sin wasn't some arbitrary list of do's and don'ts but in essence our inability to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. The Gospel of Matthew  says,

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 26: 31-40 NIV)'.

I love the idea of God being present in the lives of, and in solidarity, with those who are suffering. Sin here is not your personal failings, sexual orientation or choice of music but the failure to love others in practical ways. It is the absence of justice and mercy. It's when we treat others as commodities to be used and act out of selfishness rather than love. It challenges the status quo and yells in the face of oppression. Loving one another is the language of the Kingdom of God and when we do it God's will is done 'as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 10)'.  


Monday, 22 July 2013

Princess Ananka: Queen of the Mummies

Princess Ananka (Virginia Christie) rises from the grave.
Behind the familiar male faces of the Universal Monsters there lies an equally interesting yet underrated gallery of tragic female monsters that usually get over looked. Amongst the Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula's Daughter, and the She-Wolf, is the tragic female mummy, Princess Ananka. Although each of these are iconic characters, it is only Ananka who appears in more than one Universal feature and plays a vital role in the first of the Hammer cycle of Mummy pictures.

 The proto-type for the character of Princess Ananka appeared in the first instalment of the Mummy series. In 1932 Universal Studios, seeking to follow up the success of Dracula and Frankenstein, decided to cash in on the public's fascination with ancient Egypt and released The Mummy starring Boris Karloff as Imhotep the living Mummy. The film tells the tale of an ancient Egyptian priest, Imhotep, who has an illicit love affair with a royal princess and priestess of Isis by the name of Ankh-es-en-amon. After being caught trying to raise her from the dead using the sacred Scroll of Thoth, he is condemned to living death by the God's and buried alive as a living mummy. Many years later the mummy of Imhotep is unearthed and he is soon free to search for the reincarnation of his lost love, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. Ten years later, Imhotep returns, unbandaged and in the guise of modern Egyptian Ardath Bey, to lead Frank Whemple (David Manners), the son of his discoverer  Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), to the tomb of his beloved princess. Soon, with the mummy of Ankh-es-en-amon and her current incarnation Helen Grosvener (Zita Johann) in his dusty grip, Imhotep sets about trying to sacrifice Helen/Ankh-es-en-amon in order to raise her from the dead as a living mummy like himself. However Helen, now aware of both her past and present life, wants nothing to do with Imhotep's plan. She longs to continue amongst the living rather than joining Imhotep and living amongst the dead. Before Imhotep can complete his sacrificial rites, Helen, as a once priestess of Isis, calls out to the Goddess, who intervenes on her behalf, destroying the Scroll of Thoth and reducing Imhotep to dust.

After the success of The Mummy (1932), the studio followed it up 8 years later with The Mummy's Hand (1940). Although not a narrative sequel, the film, and the ones that followed, picked up many of the themes and situations featured in the original, as well as a lot of recycled footage of the Mummy's origin. Instead of the Imhotep and Princess Ankh-es-en amon, it is Prince Kharis and Princess Ananka that are the central figures in the rest of the Mummy cycle. The story of Kharis and Ananka, first told in the Mummy's Hand, is a truly pathetic one. Over 3000 years ago in the lands of ancient Egypt, the young Princess Ananka, a priestess initiate of Arkham (also referred to as Karnak in the second and third film) was involved in a forbidden love affair with Prince Kharis, another member of the royal house. After Ananka died a  premature death, Prince Kharis, sought to resurrect her using the sacred Tana leaves, and thus gaining the disfavour of the Goddess Isis. He is caught, captured, his tongue removed, wrapped in bandages and buried as a living Mummy in a secret part of the desert. However once the Pharaoh had left, the priests of Karnak/Arkham exhumed Kharis' body and placed him near the resting place of Ananka, standing guard as the living protector of her tomb. Centuries later the tombs of Kharis and Ananka were disturbed by American archaeologists and Kharis walked again.  After the mummy of Ananka was taken to the new world, the stories of Egyptian priests, reincarnation, tragic love, stolen beauty's and walking mummies were transported to Mapleton, USA. In the Mummy's Ghost (1944), the Princess Ananka's soul has once more been born again in the body of Amina Mansouri (Ramsey Ames), a young  woman of Egyptian descent working at the local University. However as Kharis (Lon Chaney Jnr) and the latest priest of Arkham, Yousef Bey (John Carradine), sneak into the Scripps Museum to retrieve the long stolen mummy of Ananka inorder to return it to it's tomb, it disintegrates, making it clear that the soul of Ananka now has a new home.

After two more sequels (The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost (1944), the final film in the cycle , The Mummy's Curse (1944) brought the series into new territory. In the previous film, The Mummy's Ghost (1944), Kharis the Mummy is last seen 25 years earlier, carrying the rapidly mummifying body of the Amina Mansori (Ramsey Ames), the latest incarnation of his beloved Princess Ananka into the local swamp.  When all the time references in this film series are added up it seems that this film takes place in a 1940's version of 1995.
During this time, a decision has been made for community health reasons to drain the swamp and a community of  workers from the Louisiana Bayou have moved into the town of Mapleton to carry out the task. But the stories of the Mummy have begun to frighten the workers and soon the reclamation effort has unearthed the body of Kharis in the mud. It's at this time that two representatives of the Scripps Museum arrive in town, Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe). The aim of their visit is to reclaim the missing mummy's of Kharis and the reincarnated Ananka as the swamp is drained. But unbeknownst to Dr. Harley, his fez wearing colleague is really the latest priest of Arkham who has come to the new world to return Prince Kharis and Princess Ananka to their rightful resting place in the Egyptian desert.

The most striking moment of the movie is the resurrection of Princess Ananka as she emerges from the freshly drained swamp mud. Looking ever inch a living mummy, the mud covered Princess lurches eerily out of the sediment and into a fresh pool of water. Ananka, this time played by the beautiful Virginia Christine, is now washed clean of the mud of the swamp and is revealed to be very much alive. With no memory of her life as Amina Mansori or as Princess Ananka, she stumbles throught the woods surrounding the swamp, calling for her Kharis in trance like moments, but unfamiliar with the name when questioned by those she meets. It is in such a trance like state that she is found still wandering through the wetlands by one of the workers, Cajun Joe (Kurt Katch). It is he who brings her into the town, only to have her followed by Kharis, under the direction of Dr. Zandaab. As is the usual course of events through this film series, the tragedy that is the forbidden love of Kharis and Ananka begins to take its toll on the community of Mapleton, as those who get close to Ananka begin to die at the hands of Kharis. Seeking after life and afraid of her ancient mummified lover, Ananka is eventually apprehended by Kharis and taken back to Dr Zandaab. The inevitable moment comes when, after being given a dose of brewed tana leaves, Ananka is reduced once again to a mummified state, ready to be returned to her far off desert tomb.

The tragic love between Ananka and Kharis is usually just the excuse for the Mummy to strangle people and carry off beautiful women, however here in Curse, Ananka finally steps into the sun in her own right and in many ways eclipses Kharis. Here she walks reborn upon the earth, moving from mud covered mummy to radiantly beautiful  amnesiac. She is portrayed as one who has arisen from the shadowy lands death and is enchanted by the experience of sun shining of her face. She, like Ankh-es-en-amon, loves being alive rather than   living in the world of death as Kharis and Imhotep do.  Her transformation is butterfly like when compared to the still mute and bandaged mummy of Kharis, who has never died but who doesn't really live. In many ways Ananka's transformation mirrors that of Imhotep. She begins by looking every inch the corpse and as the movie progresses she emerges as an individual who can walk amongst other people as Imhotep does. However just as Imhotep is unable to escape the ancient clutches of death as the scroll of Thoth is burned by the hand of Isis, so too Ananka is eventually re-embraced by its icy clutches as she once again turns back into a mummy upon being given a dose of brewed tana leaves. Both Ananka and Imhotep, as well as Kharis, appear to have finally been put to rest, as the ancients secrets of Egyptian resurrection appear to be lost to the sands of time. When Universal next brought the Mummy to the screen 11 years later it was in the form of Klaris (Eddie Parker), the protector of the tomb of Princess Ara in Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy (1955). However this time the Princess stayed well and truly in her tomb, as Klaris spent his time protecting her treasure and taking part in the fun and hijinks.

However this wasn't to be the last of Princess Ananka seen on the silver screen. Three years, in 1959, Hammer Studios attained the rights to remake The Mummy from Universal. Their production, directed by Terrence Fisher, was an interesting amalgamation of elements from the whole Universal series, in particularly The Mummy and The Mummy's Tomb. Elements such as the sacred scroll and the character Joseph Whemple from the original Mummy film now rubbed shoulders with characters and features from the later films, like Kharis (Christopher Lee), Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer), his son John Banning (Peter Cushing), Mehemet Bey the priest of Karnak  (George Pastell), and finally Ananka and her modern day incarnation Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux). This film features the traditional origin flashback, now refilmed totally for the first time and in lurid colour, and relocates the action from 1940's New England to 1800's England after the initial Egyptian scenes have taken place. Another element taken from The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse is the inclusion of the swamp, now transformed into an English bog. This is used effectively in a creepy scene where Kharis rises, mud covered, out of the bog, invoked by Mehemet Bey reading from the Scroll of Life. The bog is also featured in the climax of the film where, after trying to carry a still living Isobel into the bog, Kharis is blasted to smithereens by the gun wielding mob.                                             
Unlike the version of her character in Tomb, who is become the object of Mehemet Bey's desires, Isobel here is reminiscent of the Helen Grosvenor character from the original, a seeming reincarnation of Ananka but one who is also able to control Kharis to an extent. She is even able to over power the influence of Mehemet Bey and it is she that convinces Kharis to put her down in the waters of the bog, leaving the way clear for his demise in a cloud of Mummy shredding bullets. For this incarnation of Ananka their is no descent into the mummified world of the dead, but like Helen, a return into the arms of her beloved, in this case her husband John Banning. Sadly it is here that the trail of Princess Ananka goes sadly cold. After this film Hammer explored the exploits of other living mummy's and the characters from the Universal Films were abandoned for creations of their own. By the end of the 1970's that series too had finished, and with the exception of a few one off movies, the living Mummies and their Princesses had gone quiet, until the 1990's. But that's another story.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

'I'll Be A Monkey's Uncle' or 'Am I My Brother's Keeper?'

Genesis 2: 18-20 says,
'And the Lord God  (Hebrew YHWH-Elohim) said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him." Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him (NKJV).
I love this story taken from the second account of creation given in the Book of Genesis in Chapter 2. God, YHWH-Elohim, has created a garden and has placed the newly created man with in it's boundaries. He then proceeds to instruct man, or Adam (Hebrew word for both man and earth), on which trees to eat from and which trees to avoid, in particular the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After giving him his first lesson in 'bush tucker', YHWH-Elohim starts looking for a suitable partner for man. After parading each animal past Adam, which the man has the privilege of naming, no partner is found. And so the wise decision was made to create woman, a decision praised by heterosexual men ever since and one which has brought emotional balance to the human race.

But I wonder, as the parade of animals went by, whether man and ape ever locked eyes and sensed that deep connection one gets today when we look deep into the eyes of our cousins within the hominid family. I think they did if the naming process outcome is anything to go by. For instance, orang-utan means 'person of the forest' and gorilla disturbingly means 'tribe of hairy women'. 
Besides the equally disturbing fact that we and gorillas share closely related pubic lice, there must have been many times through the eons when our ancestors looked at each other and shared a feeling of kinship. I've no doubt that they would have lived beside each other, lived with each other, adopted each other, and fought against each other, as we still see happening today. I felt such a kinship connection this afternoon when, while visiting the zoo, a gorilla and I locked eyes. While lazing around her enclosure with the others of her troupe, she looked over towards the fence where I was sitting and looked straight into my eyes before going back to what she was doing. And although I was just 'some random' amongst the daily crowd of staring hairless apes wearing funny sacks, I knew that I'd been seen.
I've gazed into the eyes of other great apes before, orang-utans and chimps, and been over whelmed by the eerie sense of the familiar as I was this afternoon. I've watched full grown chimps, with the intelligence of a 5 year old human, interacting and playing together, and been struck by the resemblance to the games I'd seen played out in my own backyard by my 5 year old children, each with the intelligence of a full grown chimp. With over  95% of their DNA in common with ours, the great apes share much of the same clay we were moulded out of and sadly we are leading them to extinction. Through loss of habitat and poaching, our nearest relatives are beginning to go the way of the dodo as our lust for mobile phones and fried foods, fuels the fire of their extinction. One of the metals used in mobile phones is coltan, which is mined within gorilla habitat, and increasingly the rainforest's of the orang-utans are being cleared for the production of palm oil. Simple things we can do to help is to boycott and encourage those companies who use palm oil in there products to source it through ethical channels, or to replace it with an environmentally sound and possibly healthier alternatives. Another is to send your old mobile phones off  to be recycled thus minimising the need to mine more coltan. Simple but effective things that when put into practise by many can really make a difference.
Sadly the lands where these great apes live are often places where human life is cheap, and hominid life is even cheaper. My fear is that if we don't do something soon we may lose our closest relatives, relatives that I believe, we have a God given duty to care for and protect. And once the 'people of the forest', 'the tribe of hairy women' and their chimp brethren are gone, we will be left all alone on this ageing planet, the last of hominid kind, left with the blood of family on our hands and left to reflect sadly on what went wrong.

This Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your kind made a wasteland out of it. Dr Zaius, Orang-utan Scientist: 3978 AD