Rebecca Sips Moscato - Beau Geste & A Viking FuneralMonday, March 09, 2009
It was around midnight in November of 2004 when Rebecca, Rosemary and I sat down at a sidewalk table of Pizzería Burgio on Avenida Cabildo in Buenos Aires for a pizza. Rebecca sipped some of my ice-cold moscato, It was hot and deliciously muggy as it felt like we were in the tropics. Buses were running in both directions on the 10-lane wide Cabildo and there were so many passersby on the sidewalk that it seemed like it was noon during an eclipse. On one of the corners I could spy Cine General Paz where so many years before, 1949 or 1950 I had seen Beau Geste with my father and mother.
At my age I have condensed some of the important events of my life into a few. Beau Geste with my parents is one. It seems that I first thought of death in that film as dead soldiers stand guard on the crenellated ramparts of Fort Zinderneuf. How can I possibly forget the exciting naval battle in the beginning of the film, at the lily pond of Brandon Abbas when Beau Geste (a young boy Geste) and his band float two ships of the line, the British one and the French one and the canon of the latter accidentally fires on Beau’s younger brother John. John is taken care by the band.
Blood oozed from the neat blue hole, and Faithful Hound uttered a dog-like howl of woe and horror. Claudia asked to be informed exactly how it felt. “Just like being shot,” I replied, and added: “I am going to be sick.”
“Do it in the pond then,” requested the Captain [Beau], producing his pocket-knife and a box of matches. “Going to cauterize the wound and prevent its turning sceptic?” enquired the Lieutenant [ Digby, Beau’s twin brother] as the Captain struck a match, and held the point of the small blade in the flame. “No,” replied the Captain. “Naval surgery without aesthetics…Cut out the cannon-ball.” “Now,” continued he, turning to me as I sat wondering whether I should shortly had a wooden leg, “will you be gagged or chew on a bullet? I don’t want to be disturbed by your beastly yells.” “I shall not yell Captain, “I replied with dignity, and a faint hope that I spoke the truth.”
Beau Geste, Percival Christopher Wren
And of course in honour for his valour John Geste is given a Viking funeral and the French ship is sacrificed, or as Percival Christopher Wren writes, On this occasion, the offending French ship was dedicated to these ocean obsequies.
A specially selected lead soldier was solemnly endowed with the name and attributes of The Viking Eorl, John Geste, laid upon a matchbox filled with explosives, a pyre of matches built round him on the deck of the ship (the ship drenched with paraffin) his horse laid at the head of the pyre, and a small (China) dog at his feet.
All being ready, we bared our heads, Michael [Beau] with raised hand, solemnly uttered the beautiful words “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if God won’t have you the devil must,” and applying a match to the pyre, shoved the long-ship (late French battleship) well into the middle of the lily pond.
As any Beau Geste fan knows it is here where the honoured John promises his older Brother Beau a Viking Funeral should he ever fall in battle. I wasn’t to read the above words until many years later but Gary Cooper and company did a good job to amaze, to set my imagination free into somehow loving nautical novels, paradoxically in a film about the desert and the French Foreign Legion. And it is when young brother John finds himself in the middle of that Sahara Desert with the body of his older brother Beau that he is forced to consider carrying out his promise of the Viking Funeral.
I have been delaying that moment of transfer that I have imposed on myself to pass on to Rebecca. I want her to have that same right of passage that I had as a boy. But is she ready? Is the film much too complicated or sophisticated in comparison with modern fare? Am I on the wrong track with this film that probably means nothing to our present generation? I thought so until Saturday afternoon.
When we get Rebecca and Lauren for a weekend sleepover I go through the pleasure of planning a film afternoon on our TV. I go to Videomatica to pick a couple of films that will entertain us all. I was intrigued by Spanish director Imanol Uribe's film and I noticed it had won much acclaim. How would Rebecca understand the concept of a little 12-year-old girl accompanying her mother to live in a small town in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Would Rebecca understand when I explained that the little gir's father was an American pilot in the Lincoln Brigade and was fighting for the Spanish Republic with help from Communist Russia. Would she understand that the monarchists under Francisco Franco were really fascists backed by Nazi Germany?
In the end we had a most pleasant afternoon. At the dinner table Rebecca asked me about the justification for dropping the atom bomb over Hiroshima. We talked of Guernica, of Dresden of London and of Hamburg. I feel confident that any day now I will rent Beau Geste and all will be well with my world and Rebecca's.
Lauren at 6 seems to have a very good attention span and she was as fascinated as we were in watching the superb performance of Claro Lago who played Carol in the film. In my next viewing of Beau Geste I think I will have two little girls for company. I have a garden pond. I can get a couple of ships and...