I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

First off folks I would like to apologize from the deepest recesses of my big ol’ outlaw heart for getting this column in late. I know some of you really count on the punctuality of this particular column Vern Tell’s It Like It Is and if it is not ready for you on monday morning it throws off your whole damn week. Without my artistical Cinematic musings, my down to earth stories and advice, you are not ready to begin your week.

Oh who the fuck am I fooling, nobody knows this but this column usually goes up early Monday morning, but this time it was late. If anyone noticed then sorry bud. Remember it comes out on monday gang please read it regularly. jesus.

Anyway, the reason why I was late can be blamed on one individual named Ghost Dog and his picture Way of the Samurai. You see ever since seeing this picture I have been trying to be more open to the different ways of the individuals in different parts of the world, cultures, etc. I think Ghost Dog has a very good point that it is time people started learning from people who are different from them, from the chinese circus acrobats who swing from their hair to the dude in El Topo who has no legs who is strapped to the back of the dude with no arms.

We as americans must stop taking everything so literally man. Just cause a guy is a shaolin monk or a guy with blue hair does not mean you can’t exchange tips on how to live life. I think a cowboy or an astronaut could go out for a drink with say a ninja or a ballerina, and could learn from their ways. This does not mean the astronaut starts wearing a tutu underneath the astro-suit, or even that he does ballet moves while floating through outer space. What I’m talking about is they can get to the core of the thing, the understanding. They can learn from the philosophy or the attitude and figure out how to apply it to their own life. I mean imagine if Clint Eastwood in the westerns had learned how to look at life the same was as a ninja. I mean jesus he would be unstoppable, that motherfucker. I almost don’t even wanna think about it.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the SamuraiSo like I said I have been learning from the different cultures, reading from the books, traveling to the churches and synagogues, bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, airports and bus stations. I have been going to the slums and the country clubs, the farms and the cities, the ghettos and the international districts, both the mens bathrooms and the women’s bathrooms. But most of all I have been going to the Halls of the Cinema, from the smallest rathole wind tunnel of a mall theater to the largest plane hanger of a THX Dolby Digitalized gigantiplex. I have been watching movies on both the VHS and the DVD formats, except for Star Trek Phantom Menace which is only available on video, so I rented the version that was dubbed into spanish and pretended it was a dvd.

You see I believe very strongly that if you are to understand one form of Badass, you must understand all form of Badass. The true phenomenon of the Badass Cinema is worldwide, and it is my mission to gain a true understanding of that world and that history. How can I understand bad if I only know Clint Eastwood bad, and not Chow Yun Fat bad? You see just as a diamond of the earth has many facets, just as a gal’s tits come in many sizes with many different type of nipples, the Badass comes in many forms and styles, and I am studying them all. If you know any Badasses from around the world who I have not mentioned, please let me know so that I may continue my journey and gain more knowledge.

And all this knowledge and worldly culturalism has led me to think of one particular Badass, and that is Billy Jack, from the movie Billy Jack. Billy Jack is the story of a mysterious mystical “halfbreed” badass who lives with the indians and protects a progressive mutliple cultural hippie school. The townspeople fear and hate Billy Jack just as they do the long haired and dark haired kids of the school, who sing their songs and stand their ground and try to eat in the ice cream shop with the white kids.

Billy Jack is a very good folk hero type of Badass. He was a Vietnam vet who hated the war, so he came back and lives in some ruins where he learns from wise Indian elders. Whenever he is needed he seems to sense it and he shows up, on a motorcycle or in an old jeep, on a horse or on foot. He always seems to come across some motherfuckers that are poaching stallions, or picking on kids, or raping somebody, and then he just stands there rubbing his mouth. He takes off his hat and starts playing with his hair. He talks real quiet, making a little righteous speech, and then he blows up. Sometimes that means punching a guy, scaring a guy, shooting a guy. But in the best part, it means taking off his cowboy boots and doing some karate. And it’s pretty good karate, not quite Jet Li but more convincing than Rudy Ray Moore.

Billy Jack is like Ghost Dog because his Ways come from many different cultures. The green berets, the american indians, the japanese karate masters, and the pacifist american hippies. The most badass thing this motherfucker ever does is he gets a special indian ceremony where he becomes blood brother to a rattlesnake by letting it bite him four times and then just letting his body fight off the poison. This causes him to have a vision where he does a big speech for an ancient indian leader. Not everyone can get to do this ceremony, or even survive it, but I would like to see more motion picture Badasses taking these type of risks.

Alot of this Freedom School hippie business is pretty corny, but what I like is this is not your typical formula revenge type of action picture. Billy Jack doesn’t seem to like violence, but he believes in it anyway and implements it regularly. Even still the picture does not let him necessarily be right. I am used to the pictures where bruce lee or Steven Seagal or whoever says they don’t believe in violence, but then they end up kicking a guy’s ass to solve the problem and everything is okay. And you are supposed to think, “Well, it’s too bad but it was necessary and it saved the day and he would have been a pussy if he didn’t kill the guy.” In Billy Jack the morality is more complicated, and his old hippie lady girlfriend actually convinces him sometimes that violence will make things worse. Then at the end, she questions whether she was right – if Billy Jack had killed this one motherfucker, the school would be closed down, but one of the students wouldn’t have been murdered. So which is better? There really isn’t an answer.

The students in this movie are mostly pacifists too, they use street theater or protest songs instead of karate. This unfortunately makes the picture have less action scenes but it is still a good feeling that is arguably worth the sacrifice. Billy Jack is part of a small but important tradition of Badass pictures which use many of the conventions of the action genre but with a more lefty type of value system. I am talking about classic pictures like the Roddy Piper piece where all the republicans turn out to be evil alien skeleton men.

I think outlaws like myself prefer these type of heroes who don’t necessarily follow the law or the status quo but who have righteous pure hearts and follow what they know is right. I mean who the fuck wants to watch another movie about a cop breaking the rules and getting all worked up, veins popping out of his head he wants to throw a dude in jail so bad. “DAMN IT I’m gonna NAIL that asshole!” I don’t wanna watch that shit, I wanna watch a movie about an indian karate man who fights the racist cop’s rapist kids.

In the end, Billy Jack sacrifices himself in a way I don’t remember ever seeing in an action movie before. This dude lets himself get arrested for what he believes in. I never seen Charles Bronson doing no civil disobedience type shit. This movie was made in a more naive time when people could believe the dude who says that if Billy Jack goes to trial, it will have to be fair because the media will be watching. I have not seen the sequel Trial of Billy Jack yet but I can’t wait to find out what happens and I will keep you updated on my thoughts. Don’t give away what happens though asshole.

Anyway buds, I would like to ask you, please follow me on my journey through the Badass Cinema of many cultures, and together we will share knowledge about asskicking, snakebiting, eye narrowing and everything else. Ghost Dog, power equality or whatever the dude says.

–Vern

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, April 3rd, 2000 at 3:12 pm and is filed under Crime, Drama, Martial Arts, Reviews, Thriller, Vern Tells It Like It Is. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”

  1. So, I just watched Ghost Dog for the first time. Holy shit. I’ve been wanting and meaning to catch this for a very long time, and finally the other day I found a copy in Barnes and Nobles, which I snatched up and just gone watching a minute ago (I also snagged copies of Point Blank and The Getaway and am totally pumped to watch sometime in the next day or two.) This is one of those movies where it seems like every single little detail was chosen and designed to reference and elude to some ancient text or work of philosophy that Jasrmusch finds interesting. It seems like whenever someone gets shot there’s a specific reason for why they get a bullet where they do. I’ll elude to Vern’s There Will Be Blood review and say that I feel like I should go meditate on a mountain, or live in the woods for a few months in order to decipher what I just saw.

    Like what’s with the cartoons? Practically every scene involving the gangsters they’re watching some old school cartoon. At first it seems like a goofy quirk to these characters, a little touch you don’t usually see when dealing with these sorts of characters. But then as the film goes on you realize that the cartoons are sort of reflecting what scenes came before. So it seems like a sort of movie-joke, ha, ha Jasmusch very clever. But then there’s the bit where the mob boss is in the car watching a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, and five seconds later a woodpecker lands on Ghost Dog’s sniper scope, saving that same guy. What the hell? Is the media these guys are saturating themselves starting to seep into what is for them the real world and what for us is simply another zone of media? Is Ghost Dog causing this, because he is himself an ideology and mindset that is translated to their world from someplace and time that might as well be as far removed from them as a Tex Avery cartoon?

    When Louie explains who Ghost Dog is, one of the mafiosos comments that the name reminds him of rappers, and then starts rapping. Ghost Dog kills him while the exact same song blasts in the background. The other mafioso says that the name reminds him of how Native Americans would name themselves after animals: immediately after killing him Ghost Dog kills some assholes who were killing bears out of season because they’re rare and worth money, kind of like a vengeful, Poltergeist style of Native spirit. It’s like who Ghost Dog is, what he is defined as, flucuates from person to person kill to kill. Is that because of hwo Ghost Dog is impacting these people and their world, or is it how they are all affecting him and his perceptions?

    My favorite part wasn’t even a scene, it was a shot, right at the beginning. Ghost Dog is just lying on his rooftop with the sun coming down on him, his birds are all flapping around, it’s very peaceful. And one of his pigeons is in the air flying around against the blue sky, and Jarmusch overlaps the two shots so that the gliding bird is on top of, inside, as one, with Ghost Dog’s chest. That image is just stuck in my head, and will probably stay there for a long time.

  2. I urge you guys to check out that new Wu album that dropped today. Straight fire. Their best collective project in over a decade.

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