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Old 02-04-2021, 02:48 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Very Best of Trollheart 2011 - 2019


I think everyone here who knows me will agree that for the last seven or eight years I have straddled the journals section like some sort of colossus, casting a long shadow that can never be equalled.

Right. More like this kind of shadow...


Yeah, well, what can't be argued is that I've written a lot of crap. I mean, a lot. Some of it was even good. I claim credit for having kicked life back into what was, at the time, a pretty struggling section and revitalising interest in it, for a certain amount of years (the Golden Age of the Journal?) as people who had never considered writing a journal suddenly decided they'd give it a go. It was, you may or may not be interested to know, me who convinced Unknown Soldier to write a journal, which gave us the superlative Pounding Decibels: A Hard and Heavy History, acknowledged as one of the most authoritative and comprehensive amateur sources available on the subject of hard rock and heavy metal. Though US no longer posts here, his legacy lives on, and I like to think I had a small part in that.

I was also the first, I believe, to attempt more than one journal at a time - leading to the dysfunctional and ever-expanding family I deal with now - the first to look outside music for my inspiration, with my television journal, and now write about everything from movies to history and mythology to comics (yes Batty, I know it was your idea first). In my wake others have followed, creating journals about video games, drugs, travel, beer and a host of other things, and again I like to think I was something of a trailblazer for this explosion of creativity.

But writing so much can be a two-edged sword: quality above quantity is the old adage, and while I wouldn't necessarily consider much if anything I wrote to be of poor quality, some of it is undoubtedly better than others. Having so many journals now, and more to come, it's inevitable that some of the better work may have been missed by some of you.

Well, now it's your chance to miss it all over again in
The Very Best of Trollheart
8 Years A-Journalling
2011 - 2019

I'm sure I don't need to explain what's going on here. I'll be sifting through my journals and choosing the best, funniest, most interesting or weird entries, and reproducing them here. I'll also be reprinting some of the best comments and some of the many knock-down rows that took place within my journals.

There'll be album reviews, features, films, TV shows, gods and demons, exploration, graphic novels and comic reviews, and a whole lot more besides. Hey, with over 25 journals and almost a million views combined, there's a lot to choose from!

So to paraphrase this guy

Come with me, and you'll be in a world of pure Trollheartation.
Or, you know, don't.
But if you miss something good
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Old 02-04-2021, 05:07 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in: The Playlist of Life
Original Posting Date: April 27 2014
Status: On hiatus
Post type: Article
Media: Television


Let me tell you about television when I was growing up. No, not the programmes, but the actual sets themselves. Yeah, we called them “television sets” back then. Those of you who have grown up knowing a television has a flat screen, is very thin and can be controlled remotely do not know how good you have it. I lived through an era where even the concept of remote control was once unknown, and if you wanted to change the channel (or “station”, as we had it back then), you had to - gasp! - get up out of your chair! What, I hear you say? Was this the Stone Age you lived in, Trollheart?

It’s true though. It was some time into my teens maybe before we got our first telly with remote control, and it wasn’t the compact flat little thing you think of today as being your remote. Oh no. This was big. Probably about as big as one of those 200-packs of cigarettes you get when you go away on holiday, and about as thick. It was heavy and - wait for it - was tethered to the television by a cable, something like they used to use for operating camera shutters remotely. You probably don’t remember that either, do you, in these days of electronic digital timers. Indeed, even digital cameras were not always here and people had to use manual cameras and get the film “developed”. But that’s a story for another time.

Of course, our old remotes did little more than change the channel and control the volume, possibly the brightness too. After all, our tellys were serious beasts. You wouldn’t lift one on your own. They were fat, wide things with no real handgrips and the only way you could take a hold of one was to tip the screen towards you and grab the back of it and then stagger along with it hoping you didn’t trip over anything! The screen was curved. There was no flatscreen back in my youth. Everyone was used to seeing the very edges of the picture bend out very very slightly, and the screens were thick! The television was also set in a cabinet of sorts. Whereas today your telly is basically a big monitor/screen with some controls and a stand, back in the seventies and eighties they were made of wood, fashioned like a cabinet into which the screen sat, with the controls either under the screen or to one side, and often more on the back.


You’ll note that the screen appears green. Well it was. Don’t ask me why. Probably something to do with the kind of glass they used in them. And it was glass too: if you pinged your fingernail or rapped your knuckles on the screen you would hear the hollow, slightly ringing sound glass makes. The speaker (mono only of course) was down there at the right, with the controls, such as they were, above it. Mostly these consisted of a volume knob, channel buttons and brightness control. Most channel buttons were pushed in to select the channel but could also be turned. Why? I’ll tell you in a moment.


That’s what they looked like around the back. None of your USB jacks or stereo audio inputs, and HDMI was an acronym that would not be invented for decades. As you can see, there are ventilation slots in the back, and they were necessary because these machines got HOT! If you touched the back of one while it was running, well you wouldn’t burn your hand but you would certainly feel it. You can see this one had knobs on the back too. They were for tuning.

Unlike today’s tellys, which come either pre-tuned or which, with a touch of a button can find all the channels and tune them in to pin-sharp clarity, older tellys were not generally tuned in. If you rented --- or, if you were quite well-off, bought --- one, you would usually have to look forward to more than an hour of trying to tune in the television. If your tuning selectors were on the front of the unit you were lucky, if not then you would either have to have someone else turn them at the back while you watched the screen, or stretch your arm around the back of the set while craning your neck to see if the reception was coming in. Channels didn’t just appear: you tuned and tuned till you heard a ghostly, whistly noise and then slowly the image would appear. Once you had the station, and knew which one it was, you did whatever it was you had to do to commit it to memory: some TVs worked on the basis of you popping out the selector knob (ooerr!) turning it and then once you had tuned it push it back in, and the selection was saved. Others worked different ways. To be honest, I don’t remember the fine details: it was a long time ago, and each set worked differently in this regard.

Once you had one channel tuned in you moved on to the next, selecting the next knob down after making either a mental note of the name of the station you had just tuned in or marking it with a sticker on the button so you knew where to go when you wanted to get that channel again. Inevitably, as all the channels were broadcast on the same wavelength, you would come across the channel you had already tuned as you went, and cries of delight would quickly turn to disappointment as the family realised we had already got this channel.

And on it would go, till all channels were tuned in. Then we would sit proudly back and confidently press button 1 for BBC 1, button 2 for RTE and so on, and be very happy with ourselves. Of course, if someone accidentally tuned the station out afterwards --- I’ll explain why that might happen in a moment --- then you had to go through the whole process again, at least for that station. And if someone mislabelled the buttons, or the stickers fell off, well just hope you had a good memory otherwise you were due to spend more time clicking around, trying to find the programme you wanted, usually thirty seconds before it was due to be broadcast (for the one and only time).

And then there was what we used to call “ghosting”. In these days of digital television and High Definition channels, everyone expects and gets perfect pictures every time. But not back in my day. We used to have to rely on a company now called UPC and previously Cablelink, but I can’t recall what it was originally called, to provide us with television channels other than the local one. This was generally referred to as “The piped”, as it was piped into our homes. “Piped --- often shortened to pipe --- TV” was the thing to have. Ireland had at the time only one channel, RTE, the national channel and if you wanted more you had to have a television aerial on your roof.


These were tall, unwieldly things which stood usually on a metal stand or tube and had to be on the roof in order to get any sort of reception. They rarely failed, but if a storm took yours down, or if birds messed with it, your tv could be knocked out. Those wishing for a simpler solution, and willing to receive only the national channel, could use a pair of “rabbit’s ears”, a small indoor aerial that plugged into the back of the telly and then stood on top of the set. The drawbacks of these were many. First, they were anything but stiff as time went on, and the times I remember trying to force one arm to stand up while the other collapsed and fell over, the picture for a moment sharp (or as sharp as you could get with rabbit’s ears!) on the screen before it dissolved in a sea of static to a chorus of disappointed groans. Secondly, although most TVs were flat on top they weren’t very wide --- wider than today’s almost-not-there models certainly, but the base of a pair of rabbit’s ears was quite wide itself, so often you would stick it on the back of the TV, as in the second image above. Problem with that was that the back of the TV was curved and sloped downwards, so inevitably after a while the rabbit’s ears would begin its slow journey down the TV, slip off the end and bang would go your reception! Not only that, but with a pair of rabbit’s ears you could ONLY get your channel in if the ears were positioned a certain way AND LEFT THERE. The slightest deviation of even one of the “ears” and your programme was gone. So when the unit fell off the tv naturally the arms flopped all over the place and you were looking at some time trying to get the channel back in. All the while, of course, your never-to-be-repeated programme was continuing without you!


“Just get it on the plus one channel!” I hear you youngsters yell knowledgeably and perhaps a little derisively. Would it surprise you to know that there have not always been plus-one channels, that they are in fact a relatively recent invention? So indeed are repeats of the same show either that day or later in the week. When I was growing up if you missed the show you missed the show. There was no catch-up channel, no repeat and they didn’t even do those “previously on…” segments. You really were lost, unless you could find someone who had seen the show and fill you in.

But back to ghosting. What was it? Well, before digital television became the norm, we all received analogue signals. Since they all transmitted on the same wavelength it occurred rather regularly that the signal for one would become stronger than for the other, and it would bleed in to the weaker channel. I don’t know the technical specifics; we just knew it as “bad reception”, probably a figure of speech that would be totally alien to some of you, unless you were thinking in terms of a badly-planned wedding. But it happened all the time, so much so that when you got home and wanted to watch your favourite programme you prayed silently to the television gods that not only would the reception be good, but that it would stay good for the duration of your show, as ghosting could occur at any time and at any point during transmission.

The net effect was that you were looking at, say, Captain Kirk walking along an alien desert,, while in the background a faded, grainy image of a newscaster could be seen. Or “Match of the Day” was suddenly invaded by ice skaters or cartoon figures. The sound would also be affected, so you would hear the programme you were watching (or trying to watch!) and then a buzz, a hiss of static, and “Luton Town, nil. Shrewsbury Rovers two, Dagenham, one.” and so on. Very annoying but very common, and there was literally nothing you could do about it. Not that we didn’t try. Screaming, shouting, cursing, and when none of that worked, blaming our mother and finally trying to “tune in” a channel that was already perfectly tuned, often losing the signal in the process so that the channel that had been ghosting through suddenly came through strongly, as Mister Spock turned to Captain Kirk with a concerned look on his face and a glance at the sky, and say “Sir I think THAT WAS A FANTASTIC GOAL! OH CITY REALLY HAVE IT ALL TO DO NOW!” Cue much cursing, banging of the top of the telly (this always worked) and frustrated noises, threats to “put me foot through that effin’ thing!” and a general air of grumpiness descending.

We had no twenty-four hour television either. Usually around midnight or 1am the Irish national anthem would play and we would know there was no more to be seen that night. Test cards replaced the final programme like this one


and pop, classical or sometimes supermarket music would take over. Also, the channel would not be on-air during the day, so until maybe early afternoon if you tuned in this is what you would more than likely see, again accompanied by music


Finally the music would fade out and the announcer (a real one, not just a voiceover) would appear and welcome us to the channel, telling us what was on that day and then the first cartoon or whatever of the day would begin. If you were off sick from school you could not rely on the telly to keep you entertained, that’s for sure. Unless you enjoyed shopping music.

There were of course no video recorders. We didn’t get our first one till I was about fifteen, and then it was a big event. The idea that you could tape a show and then watch it later? Pause it? Rewind it? Man, state of the art! What a time to be living in! And by now we had progressed on to infra-red remote controls, which were much smaller (generally; some were still bloody huge) and needed no connection to the TV in order to work. The Space Age had arrived!

So now we could record all the shows we enjoyed and keep them, for watching whenever we wanted! Cool! I remember renting two video recorders, specifically so that I could wire them up together with SCART leads. I would record my shows on one, then wind the tape back, put a blank one in the second VCR, and go through the show again, recording it but this time stopping the recording at the beginning of each advertisement break and starting it again when the break was over. In this way I made shelves full of tapes of my favourite shows --- Buffy, Angel, Star Trek, Babylon 5 etc --- with no breaks at all, and yes, I made special covers for them. I was a super nerd!

You may or may not be interested to know that I only made the move to a flatscreen TV a years or so ago. Up till then I had been fine with my big chunky CRT (Cathode Ray Tube, basically a wide fat TV) set until one day it just died on me, and I was forced to make the switch up to HD and flatscreen. While I would not wish for those days back again --- the idea of ghosting is now gone forever, and good riddance: it ruined more than one programme for me --- I still think fondly of those old cabinet televisions and wonder if they’ll ever make a comeback, even in a “retro” style, with maybe a flatscreen inside the cabinet? Probably not though: they were, I have to admit, bulky, heavy, often ugly, loud and they got hot easily. And yet, they broke but seldom. In these days when we buy a new TV and expect to be replacing it within five or ten years, our old sets back in the 70s and 80s were very reliable and were usually only replaced due to upgrade rather than necessity. And screen size was not the social status symbol it is now. Some people had small TVs, some had portable ones (fourteen-inch screen or less) and some had big, ostentatious twenty-eight or even thirty0two inch ones. But nobody who had a small telly was that bothered if their neighbour had a bigger one, or if they were, didn’t show it that I saw.

So next time you plug in your brand new HDTV and watch the channels pop up in front of your eyes, or next time you view your favourite HD channel and marvel at the clarity --- or bitch that it isn’t quite pin-sharp enough for you --- spare a thought for what these televisions had to go through to get to where they are today. They’re not the pinnacle of technological evolution, far from it. But they began from very humble origins, and they owe their dominance of our viewing habits to their elderly grandfathers, who at one time would not even have recognised the term remote control.

Happy viewing, you lucky people!
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Old 02-05-2021, 05:31 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
Yeah, well, what can't be argued is that I've written a lot of crap. I mean, a lot. Some of it was even good. I claim credit for having kicked life back into what was, at the time, a pretty struggling section and revitalising interest in it, for a certain amount of years (the Golden Age of the Journal?) as people who had never considered writing a journal suddenly decided they'd give it a go.
Yep, you have made an exceptional contribution, TH. Among your many good ideas was that Weekly Journals Update that you used to put in the Announcements thread.

Quote:
Having so many journals now, and more to come, it's inevitable that some of the better work may have been missed by some of you.

Well, now it's your chance to miss it all over again
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Old 02-13-2021, 09:55 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in: Of Gods and Men
Original Posting Date: February 22 2015
Status: In second incarnation
Post type: Article
Media: Literature

The Trojan War



Pantheon: Greek
Class: War
Featured: Achilles, Paris, Priam, Hector, Helen, Agamemnon, Menelaus

It was the abduction of Helen, the wife of King Menalaus of Sparta, by Paris, prince of Troy, that began the war that lasted ten years, and took so many lives, resulting in the total destruction of the city of Troy, and the surrounding countryside, and the end of its dynasty.Paris, promised by Aphrodite the most beautiful woman on Earth as his wife, was told by the goddess to go to Sparta, where he met Helen, with whom he soon formed a strong bond of friendship, and then something more intimate, culminating in the eloping of Helen and Paris. The fugitive couple fled to Troy, where Helen married Paris.

Meanwhile, Menalaus sought the advice of the wise Nestor, who told him that the only way to regain his and Helen's honour was to mount a war-party to attack Troy, and endeavour to take his wife from them by force. Acting on this advice, Menalaus set about forcing the other suitors for Helen's hand before him to make good on the oath they had sworn, that they would all rise to Menalaus' aid, should he need it, and mounting a great warfleet, sailed for Troy.

Agamemnon, Menalaus' brother, was elected to command the fleet, and they assembled at Aulis, over one thousand ships in all, the largest fleet ever mounted. While at anchor in Aulis, they observed a strange phenomenon: a serpent coiled itself around a plane tree, on which was a sparrow's nest with nine young birds therein. The snake devoured the young birds, but on attacking the mother, was instantly turned to stone. Kalchas, the high priest, divined this omen as proof that they must fight nine years around Ilium--or Troy--and on the tenth take the city.

The Greek fleet then set sail, but landed by mistake in Mysia, where the king, Telephos, resisted the invaders fiercely. There he received a wound from Achilles, which would not heal. The Greeks returned to Aulis, and Telephos, following them and being cured of the wound by Achilles, offered to lead the fleet to Troy, an offer the invaders gratefully accepted.

Finally reaching Troy, the Greeks met the defending forces, led by Priam's eldest son, Hector. They beat back the Trojans, but suffered considerable losses, and Agamemnon, seeing that the Trojans would not willingly hand over Helen, prepared to lay siege to the town. During the many raids that the Greeks mounted on the surrounding territories, they captured in particular Chryseis, a daughter of Chryses, a priestess of Apollo, who
appealed to the god for assistance. Apollo sent a plague to ravage the Greek forces, and Agamemnon, enquiring of Kalchas how the god could be appeased, was told that the beautiful Chryseis must be released. The Greek commander, however, accused Kalchas of being in league with Achilles, to which the Greek hero responded by withdrawing all of his forces from the Greek camp.

Thetis, the mother of Achilles, begged Zeus to decree that as long as her son remained at odds with his allies, the Greeks would be defeated in every encounter, and so it came to be. The Trojans, emboldened by the retreat of Achilles and their repeated successes, sallied forth from their city walls, and succeeded in driving the invaders back to their ships, where the Greeks took refuge. Agamemnon, realising that he needed Achilles, sent emissaries to the hero's pavilion, imploring him to reconsider and rejoin the siege, promising that Achilles should have his own daughter's hand, and seven towns as a dowry. But Achilles would not relent, and the tide of battle continued to turn against Greece.

The end seemed in sight when the Trojans, under Hector, had stormed the Greek camp and set some of their ships on fire, but Patroklos begged
Achilles to loan him his famous armour, and thus clad he went against the
Trojans, pushing them back from the camp, back to the walls of Troy. But not satisfied with this, Patroklos pursued Hector himself until, in single combat with the Trojan prince, he fell. This was the spur to action that Achilles needed. Reconciling himself to his countrymen, the Greek hero strode forth, bringing his forces back to the battle.

Under Achilles' sword Hector fell, and the Trojan ranks fled in disarray, but
unappeased by the death of the hero of Troy, Achilles bound the corpse to his chariot and dragged it around the walls of the city three times, before casting it face down in the dirt, in the Greek camp. The gods were not happy with such dishonourable conduct, and they took care of the body of Hector, also softening the heart of Achilles, so that when King Priam came to respectfully beg the body of his son, Achilles gave it willingly and with great reverence. Patroklos was buried with all due honours.

As the Greeks and Trojans mourned each their fallen heroes, an army of
Amazons arrived to fight on the side of the defenders, and their leader, the beautiful Penthisilea, met Achilles in single combat, and by his hand was slain. He, however, practiced none of the indignity on her body that he had on that of Hector, praising her valour and strength, and handing over her body for decent burial to her people. There was one in the Greek camp however who felt no such kinship with the Amazon. He was called Thersites, and he stabbed Penthisilea through the eye as she lay on the ground. For this act Achilles killed him on the spot.

Diomedes, however, a relation of Thersites, was aggrieved at this treatment of his brother, and demanded of Achilles the usual sum of money, in reparation for the killing. Achilles, incensed at this, took umbrage and once again abandoned the Greek cause, taking ship to Lesbos, to which Odysseus had to be sent to bring him back. On Achilles' return, a new hero entered the Trojan camp, Memnon, son of Eos. He met and fought in single combat with the Greek hero, and as the two fought on Earth, their respective mothers on Olympus each petitioned Zeus for victory for her son. Zeus, weighing the fate of each in the balance of Moera, found that Memnon was fated to die. Flying to the battlefield, Eos found her son already dead.

But it was not long before Achilles himself died, shot by an arrow drawn by Paris.The body of the great hero was carried back to the Greek camp by Ajax and Odysseus, fighting all the way, and buried with great pomp and splendour. Achilles' armour was offered to one of the two heroes who had brought back his body, and it was Odysseus who received it, Ajax, thinking himself unworthy, fell on his own sword and died.

Meanwhile Helenos, the son of King Priam, was captured by the Greeks and forced to tell of the manner in which the city might be taken. Helenos, like his sister Cassandra, had been endowed with the power of prophecy, and he told under duress that three things would be needed to compass victory for the Greeks. These were the bow and arrows of Hercules, at present held by Philoktetes, the assistance of Achilles' son, Neoptolemos, and the possession of the Palladium, the image of Pallas-Athene, which stood in the citadel of Troy.

The help of Achilles' boy was no problem:the youth was willing and eager to take part in the war and prove his manhood. The bow and arrows of Hercules, on the other hand, meant that Odysseus had to travel to Lemnos, and convince Philoktetes to return with him, where the first of the defenders to fall to the Greek hero's arrows was Paris. The Trojans, afraid now to come out and face the fearsome arrows of Philoktetes, shut themselves up inside the walls of Troy. Then Odysseus stole into the city, and daringly stole the Palladium from under the noses of the Trojans.

Victory now within their grasp, the Greeks had now to devise a method of entering the city, and for this they turned to Odysseus, who in turn
consulted Athene. The goddess suggested that Epeios, a famous sculptor, should construct a fabulous horse of wood, which would be hollowed inside, with room for a complement of Greek soldiers. This model was built, and the Greeks left Sinon bound in the attitude of a sacrifice, the horse standing outside the gates of the city, and pretended to sail away in defeat.

Although warned by Laokoon not to accept the gift, Priam had the Wooden Horse brought into the city, and also Sinon, whom he freed, and the Trojans spent the night celebrating and toasting their victory over the superior force. Sinon it was who, when all of the Trojans had fallen into a drunken sleep, released the catch on the side of the horse and welcomed his countrymen into the city. The Greek soldiers (Odysseus and Diomedes among them) then silently opened the city gates, signalled to the ships lying off the coast, which returned. The full Greek force entered the city, descending savagely on the surprised and bleary Trojans, and slew most of them, King Priam himself falling to Neoptolemos, the Greeks torching the city and carrying off the women and riches.

Menalaus, reconciled to his now contrite wife, took Helen back with him, the other Greek heroes taking the more beautiful or noble Trojan women, and the fleet returned to Sparta. Thus ended the ten-year Trojan War, and so came to pass the prophecy made by Cassandra at the birth of Paris.
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Old 02-25-2021, 02:12 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in: Trollheart's Box Office (though actually originally in The Couch Potato, hence two dates below)
Original Posting Date: January 25 2017 (actual first post date August 5 2013)
Status: Active
Post Type: Review
Media: Film



Title: Downfall (Der Untergang)
Year: 2004
Genre: War/Historical
Starring: Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler
Alexandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge
Ulrich Matthes as Josef Goebbels
Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels
Julianne Kohler as Eva Braun
Heino Ferch as Albert Speer
Ulrich Noethen as Heinrich Himmler
Thomas Thieme as Martin Bormann
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Writer: Bernd Eichinger

There are, of course, as everyone knows, hundreds, maybe thousands, or more, war films. This is not surprising, when you consider that the Second World War was over seventy years ago now, and there has been a steady stream of directors, writers and actors who either took part in the greatest war the world has ever known, or wish to pay tribute to those who did. It was a massive world event, and it's only right it should be commemorated on film, both to praise the courage of those who fought and died for our freedom and to warn future generations against another such conflict.

But the vast majority of these films have, not surprisingly, looked at the war from the side of the Allies. You would expect that: the Allies won, after all, and who doesn't like to celebrate a victory, particularly one which, ostensibly, freed the world from tyranny. War movies, on the other hand, seen from the perspective of the Germans appear to be few and far between. Again, this is no surprise: Germany both started and lost the war, and at its conclusion had to carry the stigma of being on the losing side. In post-war Europe, Germans were seen as much as pariahs as Jews were in pre-war and wartime Germany. So they weren't exactly going to be queuing up to tell their side of the story.

Not that there would be much to tell. As long as you stick to history and don't try to distort it, there's not a lot of good to be seen from the German side. Naturally, as in any war, there were good men and women on both sides, ordinary people who fought for a cause they believed in. These people were generally not terribly politically motivated: they fought for their country and their family, and their honour, and they believed in what they were struggling for. Most may not have known about the atrocities being committed in their name, though it must be supposed some if not all must have had some idea of what was going on. But these were not politicians, or SS guards, or Gestapo officers. These were just men (mostly) who hoped to live to the next day, to return one day to see the families they had left behind. They were men who shivered in the freezing Russian winter, swatted at the flies and sweated in the baking sun of the African desert, or flew in bombers or fighters over England or Europe, anxious to complete the mission and get home safely.

While of course we must be careful not to over romanticise or too closely sympathise with these people, films like Enemy At the Gates and Das Boot do a good job of showing us that not all Germans were ravening, evil Nazis who wanted to take over the world and considered certain races subhuman. Wars are not won - or lost - by mad genius and canny commanders alone. Without the ordinary footsoldiers to do their bidding such men would languish in dark rooms, plotting their schemes but never able to put them into practice. The only casualties would in all likelihood be plastic or tin soldiers. Without willing manpower, wars would never occur. More's the pity, there's always willing manpower.

Now, I could not say with any degree of certainty that this is the best of the German-made war movies I've ever seen, as I've seen very little; a handful at best. But of the ones I've seen it is far and away the jewel in the crown, and I was extremely impressed by it. The fact that it runs for over three hours, is in black and white and subtitled makes the fact I not only lasted through it, but was disappointed when it was over, even more special. I'm not a great one for subtitled movies, though you'll see a few crop up in this journal from time to time.

So, the movie. Well, as I say it's a long one - over three hours in some cuts - and of course most of the story will be known by anyone who knows anything about World War II, so I'll be briefly skipping over the plot, otherwise we'll be here all night. Essentially, the movie opens in November of 1942, with the Reich three years away from defeat but at the moment the power in Europe, indeed the world, though by now the Japanese are no doubt making their presence felt on the other side of the world. Hitler is looking for a secretary, and has called five of the best to his retreat. He talks to them all briefly before selecting Traudl Humps, whom he then engages to take his dictation. The film is told as part of her recollections, her memoirs if you will.

At this late stage of his wartime career, with the debacle of Stalingrad behind him and the Battle of Britain lost, with his abortive Russian campaign in tatters, Hitler looks old and tired, but to the women he appears benign. More that that: to German women (and men) he is no less than a god, a fearless leader, the man who has promised to return them to their former glory, and despite the setbacks thus far most have still great confidence in der Fuhrer.

The narrative switches two and half years on. It is now April 1945, and even as the Allies, led by the Red Army, close in on Berlin preparations are under way for Hitler's 56th birthday. He, however, is more angry to find how close the enemy is to his capital; apparently he was unaware they had advanced this far. Himmler wishes him to leave the city, afraid that if he stays, when Berlin falls there will be no opportunity to sue for peace. All ministries are abandoning the city, burning or otherwise destroying their files, but Hitler refuses to leave, saying he's tired. Himmler decides to contact the Allies, believing his Fuhrer doomed and seeing his own rise to power, even if it's only at the sufferance of the soon to be victorious Allies.

Hitler is not about to admit defeat, ordering armies that are ten times smaller than their Russian enemies into battle, even though his generals ask how it is supposed to be done, and know the war is lost. Goebbels, the propaganda minister, ever the politician, says that the Americans will side with them against the Russians. Hitler refuses to allow the evacuation of the old and the wounded, the women and children. He wants to pull everyone down with him into his own personal Gottedamerung; he believes the German people have failed him. Their will has not been strong enough, their faith in him has deserted them and they have become weak. They deserve to die. Everyone deserves to die.

His generals begin to discuss what is to be done. The Fuhrer is losing - has lost - touch with reality, and everybody now wants to do anything they can to save their own necks. Even ending up in an Allied prison has to be a better choice than dying pointlessly here in the bunker, or out in the streets of the rapidly-collapsing centre of the Reich. Traudl Humps berates herself for taking the job as Hitler's secretary, since this has now quite possibly made her a target, more than just a German girl. Eva Braun, determined to deny reality as much as Hitler, declares they will go upstairs and have a party, and while Berlin shakes to the explosions of artillery shells and plaster falls from the ceilings, the lights going off then on again, she immerses herself in her own personal fantasy, pretending that what is going on outside is not happening, probably because to face such a solid fact is to court insanity, or at least, a different type of insanity. But when a shell hits the room and they are all driven back underground like rats scurrying back to their sewer, reality isn't long about establishing itself.

SS Doctor Schenke, searching for medical supplies to be brought to the bunker, finds a hospital wherein there are only corpses and abandoned patients; everyone else, including doctors and nurses, have fled. Hitler continues to orchestrate phantom strategies, but when he is told one of the generals, whose attack was central to his plan, could not do so, he flies into a rage. He does not seem to be able to grasp the fact that the general did not disobey orders: he failed to attack because it was impossible for him to. His force was outnumbered and in reality, the only strategy the Nazis have now is defence, and even that is a poor possibility. Any talk of attack, turning the tide, surprise offensives, is pure madness.

From outside his office everyone can now hear as Hitler gives vent to his fury, talking about executing his generals, how everyone is against him, and it's quite clear now that he has passed beyond the limits of denial and into total, dumb, unreasoning and illogical insanity. He is almost foaming at the mouth, blaming everyone else for his gargantuan failure to win the war, and there is a light in his eyes like the fires of hell. Women outside cry, men shake their heads as they finally realise and accept the terrible, inescapable truth: that their Fuhrer, the man they have looked up to for the last seven years or more, the man who was to have put Germany back on its feet and who would lead them to a glorious new dawn, is gone, and in his place is a rabid lunatic who is determined to take them all down with him when the city burns and the Russians arrive to lay waste to everything.

Magda Goebbels and their children arrive at the bunker. The parents have made a suicide pact, and it includes slaying their five children. Hitler has since slid back into his fantasy world, telling General Keitel that they must rebuild the Reich. He rages at a telegram from Goerring (who is never seen in the movie; odd, as he was one of the pivotal figures of the Nazi movement and second-in-command to Hitler himself) where the Reichsmarshall asks for permission to take over the reins of power. Hitler considers it treason of course, and lays the blame for everything that has gone wrong at his feet. He declares Goerring is to be stripped immediately of all his power, and should Hitler not survive the war he is to be executed as a traitor.

Speer comes back to the bunker, but he has not come to die with Hitler; he has come to say goodbye to the Fuhrer. He calls in on Magda, trying to get her to see the selfishness and pointlessness of killing her children, but she truly believes a world without the Nazi party is not one she wants them growing up in. He goes then to see Hitler, pleading for mercy for the German people, but Hitler does not care about the people. He actually wants them all to die, as he considers them unworthy. Speer then admits that he has disobeyed the "scorched earth" orders Hitler had given, to destroy everything that stood, in order that some part of Germany have some hope of survival and rebirth. The Fuhrer hardly seems to hear him; he does not rage, he does not condemn, he does not demand reasons. He is an old man now; tired, spent, defeated. He waits for death, even as his city, his country, waits for the final blow as the Allied forces smash into the city, tasting victory.

Even so he appoints another head of the Luftwaffe, now that he has dismissed, in his absence, Goerring and branded him a traitor. He still believes somewhere in his addled mind that the German air force can be rebuilt, that it will be afforded the chance to be resurrected. But when word comes through of Himmler's attempts to surrender in the name of the Nazis, he is infuriated. The one man who he had always considered loyal, a kindred spirit, turns out to be a traitor? He can't believe it, and another little chip is knocked off his sanity. So much so that he tells his inner circle that he has decoyed the enemy into attacking Berlin, and that even now his generals are massing in the north and the south, waiting to come in in a pincer movement and surround the Allies, winning the day for Germany and delivering the crushing blow that will both liberate Berlin and bring about the final victory for the Nazis in the war.

Of course, no such attack is being mounted. His generals are scattered far and wide, their power completely depleted and the best they can hope for is to survive long enough to escape, surrender or die with their armies. There will be no salvation for Berlin, no last cavalry charge, no incredible escape from the fate that is now bearing down upon it. Hitler's armies are gone, his city is doomed and his rapidly-unravelling sanity cannot cope with this, so he makes himself believe that it is all part of his plan, and that he will in the end, through brilliant strategy, save the day.

Like the Roman Empire in Caligula's day, Berlin has descended into an anarchy of hedonism. Those who realise they cannot get out of the city have decided to throw all inhibition to the wind, and enjoy their last hours before the Russians arrive. Booze, drugs, sex: it's all available to those who want it, and Berlin looks on as her denizens, her children, forget her and leave her to her own devices; as she prepares for rape and destruction, they have all essentially abandoned her.

Traudl Junge (now married) is called to type up Hitler's will, and the Fuhrer marries Eva Braun. It's interesting to note that Hitler sees himself as above his own law, as when he is asked - as he has set down must be asked under the racial law - to prove he is of Aryan descent before getting married, he shrugs off the question irritably. He is the Fuhrer; the law does not apply to him. Braun marries Hitler, even though he has just had her brother-in-law executed as a traitor, and knowing their marriage will only last a few hours at best. He makes arrangements to have his body and hers burned after their mutual suicide, fearing that the Russians would display his corpse if they were to get their hands on it, as surely they would. He even has his own dog put down, unwilling to allow the animal live on after he has died. Eva Braun, now Eva Hitler, makes Traudl Junge promise her that she will try to get out of Berlin before it is overrun, and she agrees.

Frau Goebbels makes a desperate, impassioned plea to the Fuhrer at the end, trying to make him change his mind, leave Berlin instead of take his own life, but there is a weary finality in Hitler's eyes which is not mirrored in the almost dancing madness that shows in the eyes of his new wife. With a crazy wide smile on her lips, Frau Braun looks almost eager to die, as if this will accord her some great honour, rather than seal her fate as one of the most hated and perhaps pitied, certainly ridiculed, women in history. Soon it is done, and the bodies of the man who would be ruler of the world and his wife of a few hours are taken outside and burned, as per his last orders.

Out in the burning, blasted streets a weird sort of symmetry holds court: loyal Nazis arrest and hang people they see as cowards or traitors, despite the death of their leader, while weaving through these death parties, revellers and drunks sway and totter their way towards oblivion, insensate to what is going on around them. If there is a Hell, Berlin must come close to being that place at this moment. Magda Goebbels has a Nazi doctor administer a sedative to her children; her chilling "Goodnight children" are the last words the children will ever hear, for once they are asleep she returns with poison capsules for them all. It's only as the last is administered that she allows herself a brief moment of weakness, sliding down the wall outside their dormitory. But when her husband tries to comfort her she shakes off his hand angrily. It seems that she blames him for things having come to this pass. Though she idolised and loved Hitler, perhaps now she wonders what their life might have been like had they never allied with him?

Frau Junge finally decides the time has come to make her move, and begins preparations to leave the city. Disguised as an ordinary German footsoldier she joins the exodus of the thousands of others trying to make it out of doomed Berlin. In the company of a young boy, she manages to slip away, as Berlin burns behind her, a stark testament to one man's twisted vision of the world, and what he was willing to do to make it come about.

And to the people who followed, obeyed, fought and died for him.

And perhaps worst of all, the people who did nothing while evil was perpetrated in their name. Those who turned away, closed the curtains when the knock came next door, when the jackboot kicked in the door, stopped their ears to the screams and the cries, and tried not to see the dark, thick plumes hanging daily over places like Dachau and Auschwitz. The people who tried to tell themselves all was normal, or that there was nothing they could do, and who forgot the old adage to their cost: for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men - and women - do nothing.
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Old 02-25-2021, 02:21 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Notes:
The incredible arrogance of the Nazis has been proven down through history, most keenly during the Nuremberg trials, where even when faced with their awful, heinous deeds, few if any admitted their guilt; they all, or almost all, believed they had done the right thing, what was required of them, what was necessary. Here, Heinrich Himmler, leader of the feared SS, clings to these ideals when he talks to a subordinate and confesses he is concerned about meeting General Eisenhower: "Should I shake his hand or give the Nazi salute?" he wonders. The fact that he could even expect to be entertained by the leader of the Allies, never mind actually shake his hand, speaks volumes not only about Himmler, but about the leadership of the Reich in general. They lived, mostly, in their own world and nothing would shake them out of their fantasy. Reality was not in vogue in Nazi Germany if it did not conform to the standards they had set down.

Hitler, of course, is the most tragicomic example of this. As he considers the destruction of his beloved Berlin, he comments to Albert Speer that at least it will be easier to rebuild once the city has been reduced to rubble. He believes a new Berlin will rise out of the ashes of the old, and rather like the emperor Nero in Ancient Rome, convinces himself that the old must be swept away for this to happen. Of course, technically, in time and after a great deal of hardship this will happen, but it will be despite Hitler, not because of him.

There's a bitterly touching scene near the beginning of the film where a father is trying to convince his son, who has joined the defence of the city with others barely past childhood, to come home. He outlines the pointlessness of dying for a city which is doomed, a war which is lost, but his son calls him a coward and runs from him. In an epilogue to this, we later see a young girl, who had been with the group, watch her friends take flight as they are overrun. Handing her gun to her commander, she asks him to shoot her, which he does. Having done so, the officer frets for a moment, quite obviously unsure what to do now. In the end, he shoots himself. In that one little scene is encapsulated the complete insanity, and the rabid fanaticism of the Nazi party. They would rather die than surrender. Of course, in the girl's case she must have feared rape from the oncoming Russians, but even so, she preferred to die (with honour!) than surrender or try to escape.

Another bitter, though in no way touching scene is when Dr. Schenke come across a small group of soldiers - Griefkommando - who have been tasked with hunting down any traitors, anyone who tries to get out of the city. The officer in charge has two old men up against the wall, and despite Schenke's attempts to stop him, kills both men. The Griefkommandant clearly enjoys his work, calling the men traitors but it's obvious that he doesn't really care: he's just a thug who is happy to have a chance to dominate someone and kill anyone he likes. Goebbels, meanwhile, is about to take the coward's way out. While Himmler actually believes he can broker a peace deal with the US Army, the propaganda minister knows the game is up, and he can only look forward to being hanged if captured. He has done enough in the war to merit that penalty twenty times over. So he has decided to take his own life, and in an insane suicide pact his wife will also die, after they have poisoned their children.

It's almost beyond belief to watch the doting father and the proud mother present their five children to Hitler, knowing that in a few short hours they will all be dead. Frau Goebbels turns out to be as cold and unfeeling as her husband; which is not to say that she does not love her children, for any mother would of course. But she truly and deeply believes that a Germany without the Fuhrer is not a place she wants her children to grow up in, so she convinces herself that she is performing an act of mercy. Hitler discusses suicide, too, with Eva Braun, and tells her shooting herself in the mouth is the quickest way, but she says she wants to have a nice corpse, so will take poison. Like children asking for sweets, Frau Junge (previously Humps) and Gerda both request a capsule, and Hitler, like an old grandfather doling out treats to his favourite nieces, obliges.

It's debatable whether, as he sits with the children around him, the youngest on his knee, and they sing to him, Hitler realises they are to be killed. I don't know if he even knows his propaganda minister is considering suicide. But if he does, he presents a forlorn figure as he watches what he must surely consider the flower of Germanic youth crowd around him, and knowing he is to die soon himself, must wonder how they will fare in the new Germany he has left them, this blighted, scorched, blackened thing which he must barely recognise as his beloved fatherland?

The moment when Frau Junge realises the full gravity of what is happening, the hopelessness of their situation is when she is told by Speer that "He (Hitler) needs nobody for what awaits him, least of all you", as he counsels her to get out of the city. She responds by pointing out that the Goebbels are staying, and have brought their children. A sad look and a nod is all it takes to explain to her why this is so, and even in the depths of this despair, she cannot bring herself to believe that any parents would willingly sacrifice their children in this way. Perhaps now she realises the depth of the fanatical devotion to the Fuhrer which remains in some quarters, though not many, and how far those who still follow him are willing to go to prove their loyalty, and evade justice.

QUOTES
Hitler: "In a war such as this one, there are no civilians".

Hitler (to Peter, a boy who has fought in the defence of Berlin; he can't be more than ten, twelve years old, if that): "I wish my generals were as brave as you". He of course means naive; there is little bravery lacking in the generals who command Hitler's military, but unlike Peter, they understand the futility of fighting and dying for a lost cause. In this scene, Hitler does that famous "pinching the cheek" of the boy that we've all seen in the newsreels on hundreds of documentaries about World War II: nice touch, I feel.

Traudl Junge: "I can't go; where would I go? My parents and all my friends warned me: don't get involved with the Nazis." Interesting turnaround: when we see Fraulein Humps (before she is married and changes her name to Junge) in 1942 she is delighted to have landed such a plum assignment, one of the highest and most coveted positions surely that a German woman could expect to rise to. But now, as it all comes tumbling down, literally, around her ears, she whines about making the wrong choice. She fears now that if she makes a run for it and is captured, she won't just be another German woman to be raped; she'll be Hitler's secretary, possibly an important prisoner. She may be interrogated, tortured, imprisoned. Even executed. Though she does not relish sitting in the Berlin bunker, listening to the sounds of the approaching artillery and waiting for the end, it is still preferable to taking her chances out in the wartorn streets.

Hitler: "If the war is lost, what does it matter if the people are lost too? The primary necessities of life of the German people aren't relevant, right now. On the contrary, we'd best destroy them ourselves. Our people turned out weak, and according to the laws of nature they should die out." Far from being the saviour of his people, Hitler has turned out to be their doom, but now that they are doomed it quickly becomes apparent that he only cared for the German people as long as he could use them, as long as he could push forward his plans and glorify himelf off their backs. Now that his dreams have all come crashing down, he blames them for not being strong, not being the people he imagined them to be, and sees the imminent defeat of his armies as their fault. As far as he's concerned, none of them deserve life. He sees them as nothing; mere pawns in his game and now that the game has been lost he is prepared to throw them into the fire rather than try to save any.

Hitler: "What remains after this battle is only the inferior. The superior will have fallen." What a fallacy! How could a superior force fall to an inferior one (well, David and Goliath, yes, but generally) and if the "superior" falls, then surely it can no longer be considered as such? Rather, Hitler should be admitting he has been beaten by a superior force - superior in numbers, in strategy, in will - and accept that his army, despite what he earnestly believes or believed, is the inferior one. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn. But Hitler refuses to see this, and sulks like a child who has suddenly discovered he is after all not the best ball player, or runner, or fighter.

Traudl Junge: "It's all so unreal. It's like a dream you can't get out of." Indeed it is. As Berlin shudders to the approach of the Red Army, as the Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years crumbles in less than seven, as Hitler's final hours leak away and his generals begin to desert him, Eva Braun and her cohorts determinedly, defiantly dance as if nothing was wrong, as if the music and the swaying and the singing can keep at bay the dread spectre that is even now placing colossal dark footprints in her beloved city, tearing it apart like a matchstick toy. It certainly does seem unreal. But it is very real, and the truth has finally come looking, like a landlord with an eviction notice, for Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Officer: "The Fuhrer was very impressed with your report. He has placed you in command of the defence of Berlin."
General Weidling: "I'd preferred if he had executed me!"

Hitler: "I never went to the academy. But I conquered all of Europe on my own!" Well, that's not strictly true, is it? Hitler gave the orders, made the plans, was the leading light and figurehead of the Nazi movement, but it was his generals, like Rommel and Keitel, and the ordinary soldiery of the Wehrmact that conquered Europe for him. His was the masterplan for the Master Race, but it was simple, honest, courageous if misguided men - as well as Nazi thugs and brutes - who brought about that plan, who fought and killed and died for his ideal, who made his dark vision a reality. Hitler personally never lifted a finger in the war against the enemy. He never shot a soldier, drove a tank or flew in a Messerschmidt escorting a Heinkel III on a bombing run over London. He never ran across fields or ducked behind bushes, watched his comrades die in his arms or heard them calling for their mothers at the end. He never even laughed with them as they pushed the British back to Dunkirk and kicked them out of Europe. Like most generals, most commanders-in-chief, he was safe in his headquarters when the blood was running in the streets and the tank tracks were crushing his opponents. Like most people in command during war, he has no physical blood on his hands, though in reality the blood of millions of men, women and children coat his shaking hands like glue that will not come off.

Brigadefuhrer Mohnke: "Your Volksturm are easy prey for the Russians. They have neither combat experience nor good weapons."
Goebbels: "Their unconditional belief in the final victory makes up for that."
Mohnke: "Herr Minister, without weapons these men can't fight.Their deaths will be pointless."
Goebbels: "I don't pity them. Do you hear me, I don't pity them! These people called this upon themselves. We didn't force them; the people gave us a mandate. And now they're paying for it."

It's clear from this exchange that Goebbels subscibes to Hitler's belief that the German people asked for this by allowing the Nazi party into power, and that now that it's all crumbling they deserve their fate. He doesn't care about the Volksturm, the regiments hastily cobbled together and made up of mostly old men and young boys in a final, desperate attempt to defend the city. They are merely a delaying tactic to hold back the Russians for as long as possible. But it must also be said that they are willingly thrown to the wolves in almost a gesture of contempt for them: cannon-fodder, no use for anything but that. Like broken toys they are thrown away and forgotten about.

Eva Braun, in a letter to her son: "Our entire ideology is going down the drain, and with it, everything that made life beautiful and worthwhile. After the Fuhrer and National Socialism, there's nothing left to live for. That's why I brought the children too. They're too good for the life that awaits them".

Speer: "Think about it. The children have a right to a future."
Magda Goebbels: "If National Socialism dies, there will be no future."

Hitler: "This so called humanity is religious drivel. Compassion is an eternal sin. To feel compassion for the weak is a betrayal of nature. The strong can only triumph if the weak are exterminated. Being loyal to this law I've never had compassion."
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Old 02-25-2021, 02:21 PM   #7 (permalink)
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THE STARS OF THE SHOW

Bruno Ganz, as Adolf Hitler
It would of course be odd if, in a film centred around him, Hitler were not the key figure here, but it's the portrayal of the Nazi dictator by Bruno Ganz that really strikes me. Unfortunately I don't speak German, and anyway my copy came bizarrely with some sort of Slavic audio track, but in any case it's subtitled so I just switched the sound off, but commentators remark upon Ganz's voice and accent being uncannily, even eerily close to that of the Fuhrer himself. Nevertheless, even without sound the man can still convey the passions, insanity, anger and refusal to admit defeat or take responsibility that make you see him not as Bruno Ganz, actor, but as the feared and hated leader of the Third Reich.

As the movie revolves around Hitler's final hours, there are no get-out clauses, like speeches to the masses from Nuremberg, where video footage can be studied and any actor worth his salt could competently duplicate Hitler's mannerisms and movements. In taking on the role of Hitler, Ganz has accepted that he must deliver a performance of a man who is broken, bitter and defeated, but determined to go down in a blaze of glory, to cheat his enemies of the final victory of displaying his dead body for all to see. He shows us the narcissism of the man, the blind faith in his own ability and his rage against everyone who is seen to have let him down. We see virtual spittle fly from his mouth and his eyes crease up like a mental patient's as he lets loose a tirade of abuse on those he considers traitors, weak and disloyal. We see his body shake with apoplexy and his fists bunch in rage, slam down on tables and desks, and we see too his advancing Parkinson's begin to take hold: Hitler walks shakily, bent over, his hand trembling uncontrollably as he hides it behind his back.

Adolf Hitler could never be seen as a sympathetic figure, nor should he be, but here Ganz makes him into a more tragic, almost pitiable man than a monster, while still showing that the rages he can fly into and the cold calmness with which he orders executions, or commands men to stay and fight to the death in a lost cause, marked him as a dangerous lunatic. For years, that dangerous lunatic was the most powerful man in Europe, and his long dark shadow fell across most of the world as it struggled to get out from beneath it, and fight its way back to the sunlight. Ganz also (although this must really be credited to the writer and director) avoids portraying Hitler as a parody, a cartoon, a black villain (though he was), by endeavouring to show some of the more human traits of the man who almost destroyed the world. He loves his dog, he loves his wife. He sits with his nephews and nieces on his knee. He thanks Frau Junge for her help as he goes to commit suicide.

Such human traits are needed, because otherwise Hitler is a two-dimensional figure, and no matter how evil a person is there is always some spark of humanity within them somewhere; perhaps they are kind to their mother, or like animals, or give to charities. Nobody is one hundred percent evil, and to present them as such would be too easy, too banal. Look for the good in anyone and you'll find it; it may be a tiny spark but you will find it. But Ganz and Hirschfield are careful not to allow Hitler's few small redemptive qualities to outshine his innate brutality. Even as we see that he loves Eva Braun, he tenderly rejects her pleas for clemency for her brother-in-law and tells her kindly that all traitors must die. When she, tears shining in her eyes, looking for mercy in the face of her soon-to-be husband that is not there, asks why, at this late point in the war, when all is lost, he must pronounce such a doom on her brother-in-law, he snarls "It is my wish!" revealing the truth behind Adolf Hitler: that he cares nothing for anyone, and all who oppose him must die, even if it is almost too late to exact that vengeance, even if the vengeance itself will serve no purpose.

Looking at Ganz, it's sometimes hard to separate actor from historical figure, and you feel at times that you've somehow gone back in time, and are watching the final days of Adolf Hitler as they unfold in the bunker below Berlin. The fact that the movie is shot entirely in monochrome adds to that feeling of being back in 1945. It must have been hard for Bruno Ganz to have taken on the role of such a figure in Germany: pilloried, hated and despised by so many and yet there are those who secretly hope to bring back the ideals he espoused, and so it was important that the film not be seen as glorifying Hitler in any way. It was important that though he be seen as a tragic figure there be no sympathy for him, no understanding, no attempt at redemption. History must also be reported as it happened; no revisionism. Those who committed unspeakable acts must face them in the film, not pretend they did not do what history proves they did. Even at the end, Hitler's one comfort is that he cleansed Germany of so many Jews. He has no regret on that score, believing he did the right thing.

German director Wim Wenders is on record as accusing the film of trivialising the role Hitler played in World War II and of glorifying him. I don't see it. There's nothing here that makes me feel "this was a misunderstood genius", or even makes me feel sorry for him. Uppermost in your mind all the time is the knowledge of what he has done, what has been perpetrated at his hands, and that's something that there will never be any understanding of, nor forgiveness for. I personally think Ganz is far and away the best Adolf Hitler I have ever seen on film.

Alexandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge

When the film opens, the aged Frau Junge is relating her experiences in the service of Hitler, and lamenting that she was so taken in by his charisma, as were so many millions of Germans. Initially we see her delighted to get the job as his personal secretary, but as the war begins to turn against Germany and defeat seems inevitable, she operates in the film almost as a disconnected spirit, an observer watching the fall of the man she had considered to be the greatest German ever, and she sees too the way his people react, now that he has been proven to be fallible. Many turn against him, though in private, like Himmler trying to sue for peace and Goerring wishing to take over in Hitler's stead; many desert him, while the more loyal or stubborn refuse to surrender. Some, like Goebbels and his wife, decide suicide is the only path remaining to them, while Eva Braun, infatuated with him and it would seem perhaps fascinated by death, is happy to die with him.

She sees how the great Nazi empire was really held together by the almost supernatural strength of this man's charisma and will, and that when it is clear that he is losing his grip, and the war has turned against him, his empire begins to fragment as people lose faith in him and try to save their own skins. Hitler's fantasy orders, commanding armies that are not there into battle, thinking he will be able to spring a surprise attack on the Russians and trap them, and thus win the war, show everyone that he has lost touch with reality, and they can no longer depend on him. Frau Junge is torn as she watches the man she respected fall apart, and as the full horror of what he has done begins to become apparent she wonders what is to become of her.

She watches Eva Braun dance and party as if nothing is wrong, wilfully refusing to accept reality, witnesses firsthand the cold determination of Magda Goebbels, who reasons that her children cannot survive in a world without the Nazi party and Hitler, and hears, as does everyone else, the slow disintegration of the mind of her Fuhrer and he slips deeper and deeper into a fantasy in which he expects still to turn the tide of the war.

In ways, Trudl Junge represents all the idealistic, starstruck young women, and men, who followed Hitler into perdition, believing everything he said and trusting totally in his ability to lead them back to glory. She realises much later how wrong she was, as she relates in the film's closing minutes seeing the grave of a young German woman who was the same age as her, executed by the Nazis in the same month she signed on as Hitler's secretary. As she shakes her head and her eyes mist, her final words, indeed, the final words of the film, hang heavy in the air: "Youth is no excuse."

Why do I love this movie?

I absolutely did not expect to, and so it took me by complete surprise that it affected me as it did. I have never seen, nor do I think I ever will see, a more faithful and chilling portrayal of Hitler on the screen. The movie also shys away from explaining what Hitler was about, trying to see things through his eyes or even trying to excuse or justify what he did. It also similarly avoids the easy-to-fall-into trap of damning him, creating a two-dimensional caricature of ridicule and disgust. "Downfall" certainly shows the Fuhrer's madness, and no apologies are offered for what he did, but the crowning achievement I believe of the movie is that it's told through the eyes of an ordinary German girl; not a rabid Nazi, but someone who truly believed Hitler would be Germany's salvation, and who realises all too late that she has placed her faith in a madman, that she has, for the last three years, served a tyrant and a despot, and that he cares less about his people than an abuser of animals cares about his pets.

It's her realisation, tearful and horrified, as the film unfolds, that she has been party to such horrors, even if they were unknown to her, that shocks and revolts her, and in many ways she is a surrogate and metaphor for the entire German people, who were prepared to in some cases wilfully and in others blindly ignore all that was perpetrated in their name. The film newsreels of the people of Auschwitz being taken to see what had been taking place there is harrowing, but scarier yet is the look on some - not all - of the faces of these ordinary Germans. That looks says, without words, "so what?"

And it is this deep, ingrained belief in their own superiority and hatred of jews that sadly ensures that though Hitler is now just ashes, like his dream of empire, a thousand-year reich that lasted barely ten in all, Nazism and fascism is still with us today, and probably always will be.

For some people, history will always repeat itself, as they refuse to learn from it.
A very sad truth about we stupid humans.
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Old 03-01-2021, 02:08 PM   #8 (permalink)
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And now, a real blast from the past!
I'm running this on other forums this month, so I thought why not re-run it here, so anyone who missed it can check it out if they want?

I heard no reasonable argument as to why I should not, and so, for the next month, here it is again.

Originally ran in The Couch Potato exactly six years ago, from March 1 to March 31 2015.

“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Her five year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldy go where no man has gone before!”

With these words, not just a television series but a true phenomenon began. The Star Trek franchise is now worth billions of dollars worldwide, and has spawned four sequels and to date twelve Hollywood movies, as well as countless other tie-ins and spinoffs. The first real television franchise, Star trek is shown somewhere in the world almost every minute, and there can be few people who have not seen at least one of its incarnations. Even for those who have never experienced it, the words “Kirk”, “Spock” and “Enterprise” all have meaning, and all relate to the programme that redefined television drama, and almost single-handedly gave birth to the era of television science-fiction.

(Gene Roddenberry: the man who started it all)

Before Star Trek, TV was simple: the good guys chased the bad guys, caught them and said something pithy while smiling into the camera. That’s overgeneralising of course, but essentially that was the tried and trusted formula for TV, and it worked whether you had a cop show, a cowboy show, a comedy show or any other sort of show. It was a template, and with a very few exceptions writers wrote within that framework. Then came Star Trek. Rather than just be a chasing-aliens-and-space battles (which was surely not only envisioned but expected by executives when it was pitched to them), this series would take on the issues of the day, make political and social comment and attract far more than the expected geeky teenager audience, with its adherents eventually being academics, teachers, scientists and even astronauts.

Star Trek has become so deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the world that it is now not at all unusual for people to have their first kiss to it, conceive their first child to it, even name the child after a character in it. Weddings can now be full Starfleet affairs, and where this sort of thing would be, and was, looked on as at best weird and at worst sad, these days it is almost acceptable. The poor maligned Trekkies and Trekkers may not quite outnumber the “norms”, but we’re getting there. Star Trek conventions are big business, the actors all get great jobs with voiceovers and sponsorship, and many have received honorary doctorates when, really, they wouldn’t know one end of a microscope from another. But it’s not for what they know that these people have been honoured, it’s for what they were a part of, how Star Trek changed the lives of more people than anyone will ever know. Many Apollo astronauts have cited the programme as a reason they wanted to go into space, while cults and even religions have grown up around the franchise.

(A "typical" Star Trek wedding)

I personally would consider myself a semi-hardcore Trekker. I’ve only been to one convention (and that wasn’t anything like I expected) and I don’t own a uniform (at least, not a Star Trek one! ) but I have watched all series (bar Enterprise) and can tell you most of what happens in every episode. I can argue the merits and failings of the Borg, Quark’s bar, Data’s approach to Shakespeare, or any other aspect you wish. I don’t go giving people the Vulcan salute (but I can do it: just) but I do often recall episodes or events in the series that I can use to parallel my own life. I’m certainly not a casual fan, but neither have I built Starfleet Academy in my back garden.

So here I’d like to take the month to look deeply into this amazing creation of one man --- or as deeply as I can in four weeks --- and try to give you a flavour of what it’s all about. I’ll be looking at episodes from all four main series as well as some of the movies, with articles on various aspects of the show and features on characters. If you haven’t seen the show before this could be a great introduction for you, and don’t be afraid to shout if you have questions.

But mostly I hope just to have fun here for the next month, exploring what it is that makes this originally only three-season, seventy-nine episode series such an enduring phenomenon, and why even now, nearly fifty years after its creation, it still has the power to enthrall, thrill and engage us. I should point out that, like everything in The Couch Potato, spoilers will abound, so if you’re getting into the series for the first time, be warned as there are major plot revelations all through these articles. There’s no point in my spoilering them, as it would just be impossible, so think carefully before you proceed. I don’t want to be held responsible for anyone’s disappointment later on.

Do be aware I am not covering the so-far most recent series, Enterprise, later Star Trek: Enterprise, for a range of reasons. Mostly because I didn't watch it all --- about half a season I think --- and what I did see gave me no hope it would get any better. I was bored by it, and while I can wax critical about Voyager, and it had some awful episodes, I can't ever really say it bored me on the same consistent level that Enterprise did. I didn't engage with any of the characters, least of all the captain, and I couldn't pick out one --- unlike the Doctor in Voyager --- who could have saved the series for me.

So, to all intents and purposes, although I of course know of it and wouldn't attempt to deny its existence, Enterprise is not a stop on our month-long journey. If you are a big fan and would like to write about it, drop me a line and I'll see what we can arrange. Otherwise, don't expect to see it covered here. It may be mentioned the odd time, but that will be about it. I apologise if you think it was a great series, but if so, then write about it for me here and try to show me how wrong I am. If not, then please just accept it will not be part of these proceedings.

So come with me now, as we beam aboard and begin our journey. Later on, we’ll rendezvous with the USS Nerdtopia as she begins her long mission to review that list of science-fiction movies I posted some time ago, but for now, let’s start off with the smaller screen, and nowhere better or more appropriate to begin than with the very first ever episode.

Ahead, warp factor five. Steady as she goes!
Welcome to

(Note: In the light of the recent tragic death of Leonard Nimoy I wrestled briefly with the idea of either delaying this special, or even cancelling it altogether, but I came very quickly to the realisation that, as Spock himself said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and some of you have been waiting for this. Well, that guy down there has, he told me so. Also, if I can allow myself some incredible self-indulgence, I’d like to think that if he’s looking down on us now, Leonard would want us to go on, and celebrate his life and his work rather than mourn his death. In the final analysis, and to be completely Vulcan about it, it’s surely the logical thing to do.)
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Old 03-02-2021, 10:01 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Even the best show ever written is bound to have one or two bad episodes, and with a total of over four hundred episodes between all four series, Star Trek has certainly seen some total turkeys over its run. Here I'll be presenting a few; I had intended originally to make a toplist, but sure I can't tell if "Spirit Folk" is worse than "The Omega Glory", or if "Fascination" trumps "Masks" in absurdity and bad writing, so I'll just list them in no order. I will however rate them, the usual one to five, with in this instance five being the worst possible and one being mildly bad. To illustrate this, I'll be using icons of one of the most disliked Star Trek characters ever.

Title: "Starship Mine"
Series: TNG
Season: Six
Writer(s): Morgan Grendel
Main character(s): Picard
Plot: Picard has to go all Die-Hard to save his ship from terrorists. No, really.

There's nothing terribly wrong about this episode, compared to many of the others that will populate this section, but at its heart this is "Die Hard" in space. Well, spacedock. While the rest of the crew are attending a lavish reception (sound familiar?) Picard returns to his ship, which is being decontaminated, and finds that a group of terrorists are using the opportunity to harvest the chemical from the ship's engines to make into bombs and sell to the highest bidder.

Lord preserve us! It's an all-action episode to be sure, but really, it's far below what TNG was capable of and with a few tweaks it could have been on Criminal Minds, NCIS or any other action cop show. It does give Picard a central role, which he did not always have, and a chance to action-hero it up, but the rest of the crew being held hostage while he does his thing is just way too close to every Bruce Willis movie you've ever seen to be forgiven.

It's odd, too, because the episode was written by Morgan Grendel, who penned the superlative "The inner light" for the previous season. Maybe working on Nash Bridges, 21 Jump Street and Law and Order affected him more than he would like to admit!

The episode is marked by the first ever appearance of Tim Russ as one of the terrorists, who would go on to become Tuvok later in VOY. But nobody cares about that.

Rating:

Title: “Explorers”
Series: DS9
Season: Three
Writer(s): Rene Echevarria and Hilary J. Bader
Main character(s): Sisko and Jake
Plot: Sisko decides to see if the ancient Bajorans were able to harness the energy of solar wind power to YAWWWNNNN (sorry, sorry) um, sail across the stars.

Yeah, the above says it all really. Wanting to bond with his son, believing they aren’t spending enough time together Sisko works on an exact duplicate of the solar ship the ancient Bajorans apparently used to sail between planets. He wants to see if it’s possible, and Jake, having a brain and something of a life, is reluctant to accompany him. It’s very much a character-driven episode, but whereas these can be really well written and deep, this is, well, not. It’s like that one where Wesley has to spend hours inside a shuttlecraft with Picard, and they get to know each other better. Really, who gives a ****? We want conflict, space battle, aliens, political upheaval, not two boring bastards having a family moment as they drift across space.

Nothing happens in the episode. Literally. Nothing. Whereas they could have been attacked, or discovered a new moon, or contacted some alien lifeform who became interested in their ship (**** it, I don’t know: they could! Something could have happened) none of the above happens and the most interesting and exciting part of the episode is when they start to slightly drift off course and Jake has to main the sails. Jesus Christ on toast! Is this The Onedin Line in space or what? Bo-ring. I mean, come on, let’s be honest: who gives a rat’s ass what the ancient Bajorans did? The current ones are boring enough.

Written by (well the teleplay anyway) Rene Echevarria, who also penned the drivel that is “I, Borg” for TNG, demystifying and emasculating the most badass aliens ever to threaten a Federation starship. He did however create the series The 4400, though on the other side of the coin he was also showrunner on Spielberg’s borefest Terra Nova.

Rating:

Title: “Turnabout Intruder”
Series: TOS
Season: Three
Writer(s): Gene Roddenberry and Arthur H. Singer
Main character(s): Kirk
Plot: After she uses an alien machine to bodyswap with Kirk, Dr. Janice Lester attempts to take over the Enterprise and have Kirk committed or killed.

Could there be a more misogynistic episode of any series? It gets something of a pass, being the final episode of the series but still. The idea of this woman taking over Kirk’s body and then “betraying herself” by her “emotional and irrational” behaviour --- typical woman! --- is both ludicrous and offensive. What Roddenberry was saying, basically, here, or at least the message that came across from it was that women are highly-strung, emotional creatures not fit for command. Now that may have flown and been acceptable in the sixties, but really, could you be more insulting to fifty percent of the world’s population? No wonder early Trek had few female viewers! Mind you, Roddenberry’s chauvinistic view of women has already been well explored, not least in the attire of the female crew and the lack of any women in positions of command, but even for him this is a new low, and a terrible way to sign off.

It does afford Kirk the chance to indulge himself, playing essentially two people, as he had in “Mirror, mirror” and “The enemy within”. and though he hams it up he’s not bad. Lester, played by Sandra Smith, is actually the better actor here, keeping calm (though of course she is meant to be Kirk) until she is transferred back (with very little scientific explanation) at the end, whereupon she goes totally mad. Her insane decree that Kirk, Spock and Scotty are to be executed --- yes, you read that right: executed --- is the final straw that tips the balance, but it’s ridiculous that the crew go along with such a wild and un-Kirklike order. Very little to save this episode, and as I said, it’s an awful end to a superb series.

Rating:

Title: “Skin of Evil”
Series: TNG
Season: One
Writer(s): Hannah Louise Shearer and Joseph L. Scanlan
Main character(s): Troi, Picard
Plot: After crashlanding on a remote asteroid, Troi is trapped in the wreckage of a shuttlecraft, but when the Enterprise crew come to rescue her they are stopped by an alien being. Why? Why not…

Oh there are some awful episodes in season one, and I could have chosen any of half a dozen or more, some of which will feature here in due course. But this one takes the proto-biscuit for just being a case of “why the ****?” There’s no explanation given for where Armus, the alien who looks like a cross between liquid Terminator II and a jawa, came from, why it behaves as it does, or even how the crew, who appear trapped by it, escape in the end. Sirtis puts in a decent performance in her limited role, but the bulk of the episode goes to Picard really, as he tries to reason with, and then sneers at Armus. Riker’s drowning-in-a-pool-of-oil is a well done scene but ultimately pointless, as indeed is the whole episode.

Of course, if this episode is remarkable or memorable for anything, it is the sudden, unexpected and pointless death of security chief Tasha Yar, a shamelessly lazy device to have the actress released from her contract at her request. I didn’t particularly like Yar, but we had grown accustomed to her, and for her to die in this grossly “Redshirt” manner was a bit of a kick in the teeth to we fans, I feel. There is at least the touching eulogy and funeral ceremony at the end, which does its best to save the episode but it is well beyond salvation from the moment we meet Armus, and the fact that Picard literally just shrugs his shoulders and says “**** you” to the alien and leaves, when the whole idea has been built up that he can not leave, is being restrained here, just makes me roll my eyes. Awful, awful episode.

Rating:
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Old 03-02-2021, 10:14 AM   #10 (permalink)
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It’s a big galaxy out there, and as Ford Prefect once remarked, there’s all sorts of people out there, trying to rip you off, kill you … always helps to know where your towel is. Or, if you’re not familiar with “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, then it’s at least desirable to know as much as possible about the beings you share the galaxy with. Of course, in the twenty-third century each race has its own agenda and most if not all have their own military, so everyone is at one time or another spying on everyone else, and though there’s generally, usually a state of peace or at least uneasy truce between the races, disputes can boil over into conflict and lead to war, so intelligence about the aliens who may be your friends or allies today but may be your enemies tomorrow is crucial.

In this section I’ll be looking at a specific race, telling you all I know or can find out about them, how they fit into the universe and any other stuff about them that may seem interesting or good to know. I’ll be referring, obviously, to when and how they fit into the series, and how if at all they developed from their original form, as many of the races here did. Please note that these are my own written articles from my own head, based on what I know about the series and the various races, and although I have referred to Wiki and other sources for confirmation or clarification of certain issues, this is not a copied Wiki article or anything close to it. It is also nothing like a comprehensive essay on any race, but just something to give those of you who may not know these aliens a basic grounding in who they are, where they fit into the plots, and how they relate to the other aliens. There is surely much left out, though hopefully nothing here is incorrect, and if you want to read further there are tons of articles all over the interweb, many of which are well worth reading. However do be careful if you’re doing this, as many of these articles and sites quote events in the series that you may not be aware of, and could very well contain spoilers for you. As could these, to a smaller degree.

The one I’ll kick off with is one that most if not everybody will be familiar with, the oldest aliens in Star Trek and the traditional nemeses of Captain Kirk and his crew.

Klingons

Class: Humanoid, warlike
Home planet: Qu’onos
Feature in: TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY
Klingons of note: Kah’less the Unforgettable, Molor, Kang, Gorkon, Gowron, Worf, Bel’enna Torres, Kurn, Martok, K’mpec
Values: Honour, courage, respect, honesty, fighting prowess

Originally seen as the bad guys of the original Star Trek series, Klingons were one-dimensional villians for Kirk and the Enterprise to fight against and triumph over. Warlike, always seeking strength through conquest, and jeering at the Federation’s noble aims of peace through democracy and diplomacy, Klingons were I guess essentially the Russians to the Federation’s basic Americans, the Commies of the cosmos. Very limited, their appearance originally was not like the guy shown above. They were merely humans with darker skin and their faces shaped into a somewhat devilish look, giving them the aspect of satyrs or demons. They had little in the way of philosophy --- I guess “survival of the strongest” or “To the victor the spoils” would be some of the mantras they lived by --- and were, originally, looked on very unsympathetically by the writers. They were warriors, but they were always warriors. They had no time for talking, peace treaties or conferences, and they preferred, when possible, to shoot first. Ask questions later? That would be a novel concept for a Klingon, indeed! Perhaps they might ask, “Why did you wait so long to shoot?” but that would be about it.

With the emergence of TNG, and a whole different attitude towards the USSR and racism in general, with the Cold War over and Gorbachev making massive strides to bring the Soviet people into the twentieth century (steps that would be reversed thirty years later as Putin dragged his country back into the days of the hardline communist regimes), the Klingons were given more of a backstory and seen with if not a more sympathetic eye, at least a less biased one. This was necessary because, apart from anything else, there was now one serving aboard Picard’s Enterprise, and the story of how that happened would take pages in itself. But a quick recap of how relationships between the Klingon Empire and the Federation thawed:

As the onset of the twenty-fourth century loomed, a ecological and industrial disaster hit the Klingon Empire when one of the moons orbiting their home planet Qo’nos (pronounced “cone-nose” but I’ve heard it referred to as “Chronos”; may just be pronunciation issues) exploded. Praxis was the base for all the fuel the Klingons mined for use in their ships and their industry. Foreseeing the very real prospect of their extinction, the Klingon High Command opened talks with the Federation, with a view towards healing the divisions between the two races and finally bringing to an end the almost-state-of-war that had existed for over seventy years. When the crew of the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701C, gave their lives defending a Klingon outpost from marauding Romulans, the pact was sealed and the Klingons could see that their new ally was indeed honourable. Honour is a value Klingons cherish and prize above all else, including their lives, and there was and is no higher honour to them than for an enemy to die defending them. Soon afterwards the Klingons, though never admitted to nor asking for membership of the Federation, were allies of the humans.

Klingons are a warrior race. They prize such qualities as courage, valour, honesty, strength, cunning and of course as I said above honour. To a degree, they could be likened to the ancient Greek warriors, the Spartans, in that every single thing they do is geared towards combat, conquest and war. Being allies of the Federation meant that could no longer make war on them of course, but there were plenty of other aliens in the galaxy they could challenge and take on. As with the Spartans, from a young age every boy is trained in the noble arts of combat, learning to use the weapons endemic to the Empire, including the curved double-handled four-bladed sword known as the bat’leth, but also to master the art of hand-to-hand combat, learning all there is to know about martial arts, breathing techniques, yoga and meditation. The dynasty of each Klingon family proceeds from the father, and is referred to as a House. Presidency of the House is passed from father to eldest son, and thence to either his son or the next eldest if he should be killed. Women are not valued as warriors, owners of property or soldiers in the Empire, though that is not to say they are second-class citizens. Indeed, many a Klingon wife can lay low with a few sharp blows of her tongue a warrior who counts many kills among his tally, and whom others rightly fear!

The Empire has of course an Emperor, but the title is largely representational, with the true power lying in the men who make up the High Council. It is they who set policy, direct the military, govern spending and dispense justice. Klingons speak their own language, a harsh, gutteral tongue, and will speak humanoid only if necessary. They may be allies of the Federation but they do not fully trust them, and see them as weak and ineffectual as they try to persuade with words where Klingons would rule by the fist. Klingons are proud of their lineage and always make sure anyone knows whose son they are. Although they have their legends, they proudly boast (whether true or not I don’t know) that they slew their gods, and they worship instead great heroes and warriors, the greatest among them being Kahless (kay-less), the very first Emperor, who, Moses-like, laid down their rules of conduct and honour.

Klingons are a fiercely proud people and for them cowardice is the one stain they cannot stand. They would far prefer to die in battle than run and live to fight another day, and the worst fear of any Klingon warrior is that he will die in bed, of old age, and not be admitted into the halls of heroes like the ancient Vikings upon whom so much of their culture appears to be based. This leads to one of their favourite battlecries: “Today is a good day to die!” They are fearless, often reckless though, thinking with the sword rather than the brain, more worried about appearing weak and craven for retreating than about taking on superior numbers. They live for the fight, and chafe in this new peacetime into which circumstance has forced them, so spend their off-hours drinking, singing battle songs and fighting.

Only one of their number has ever served on a Starfleet vessel, and Worf, son of Mogh, who has some human heritage in him, later left the Enterprise to take up station at Deep Space 9, where he became tactical chief of operations. Worf has a son, Alexander, who is not interested in the ways of his father and does not want to be a warrior. He is a constant source of worry to his proud father, Alexander’s mother having been killed by a traitor to the Empire, who was himself shortly thereafter despatched to the netherworld by Worf.

As this is not behaviour countenanced by Starfleet Worf was reprimanded for it, but as a Klingon he had to satisfy his honour, and his people approved. As in all things with Klingons, honour is the driving force behind them, and if one of their number is seen to be acting without it, they can expect to be shunned.
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