Oscar Wilde & The Matterhorn

I have some facts I’d like you to know before we get into this and these are those facts:

  • The Matterhorn is the 6th highest mountain in the alps with undoubtedly the best name of any mountain ever
  • Known for its appearance – it looks like a giant angry horn, basically the Grinch’s house
  • It has 2390 reviews on trip advisor – so, V Popular tourist destination
  • About 3,000 people summit the Matterhorn annually
  • It was first ascended on 14 July 1865 by a party of seven, three of which lived
  • As such, it’s an obvious Death Trap

mattyhornWhen you look at the list of highest peaks in the alps a bunch as I did you start to notice that all of them were summited in the 1800s. As you read the years so close to one another, it becomes like reading a race. You can see the enthusiasm in the dates. Climbing was all the rage in the 1800s and there was generous competition – and the last peak to be climbed on that list of mountains in the Alps was The Matterhorn.

You get drawn in by what it looks like. It is truly a prodigious horn, a rising monster in the distance. I needed to know more about it. But once you find out it’s not even the highest mountain in the alps let alone close to the world’s top 10 highest peaks perhaps that initial interest may fade – I know it did momentarily for me.

But thankfully due to the human spirit being morbidly curious as to the soup that death makes, this curled and mangled creature held on to my interest. The Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks in the world – over five hundred climbers have died trying to conquer this rock including four of the seven that made up the climbing party first to ascend, an incident that ostensibly ended recreational climbing for a generation.

This mountain is also tied to famous poet and author Oscar Wilde’s downfall in a truly intimate way that is fascinating. The moment you begin to climb the mountain that is The Matterhorn it instantly becomes many stories all rolled into one. This is the story of Oscar Wilde’s trial, an awful man named John Douglas, and the first ascent of The Matterhorn.

John Douglas, The Man That No One Liked

The golden age of alpinism was the decade in mountaineering between Alfred Wills’s ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854 and Edward Whymper’s ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865.

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A. Willy

So, let’s start at the beginning. 1854 – and Alfred Willis.

Sir Alfred Wills was a judge of the High Court of England and Wales (like the supreme court in America but with better wigs) and a well-known mountaineer. He was also the third President of the Alpine Club – a place where rich white men met in London who really liked chilling in the alps.

Mr. Justice Alfred Willis was a gay bashing troglodyte who wrote a legal document called “An essay on the principles of circumstantial evidence: illustrated by numerous cases” that still gets referenced often in academic settings today.

But, as interesting as that document both sounds and reads, he is even better known as  the judge who gave the maximum punishment at the end of Oscar Wilde’s sodomy trial. Said punishment was 2 years hard labor/prison to which Judge Willis described the sentence, the maximum allowed by the way, as “totally inadequate for a case such as this,” and that the case was “the worst case I have ever tried.” Wilde’s response “And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?” was drowned out in cries of “Shame” in the courtroom.

The reason Oscar Wilde was within this court case to begin with was that he was engaged in a homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas whose fathers name is John Douglas, an infamously secular and opinionated brute plus the main character of our story.

JD

John Douglas, local dink

John’s divorces, brutality, atheism, and association with the boxing world (he published the rules for modern boxing that someone else wrote and he got all the credit for) made Mr. Douglas an unpopular figure in London high society.

In 1893 his eldest son Francis was made a baron, thus giving him an automatic seat in the House of Lords. John resented his son sitting in a chamber that had refused to admit him previously, leading to a bitter dispute between himself and both his son and the Earl of Rosebery, who had promoted Francis’ ennoblement and who shortly thereafter became Prime Minister.

Francis Douglas would go on to allegedly kill himself. It was called a hunting accident which was a commonly used term at the time for suicide and or murder. He did so after the rumor got out that he was shtucking his boss, the recent Earl of Rosebery and the now Prime Minister, whom Francis was both a secretary and a lover. This all occurred only 8 months after the Prime Minister came into power. John Douglas said his son post death as “he died unmarried and without issue.” John would later say of the Prime Minister, whom he so lovingly referred to as a “Snob Queer,” that he had corrupted both his sons and held him responsible for his sons apparent suicide.

John’s other son, Lord Alfred, was also gay but instead of Prime Ministers he was more into poets, or at least one in particular which was Oscar Wilde. John Douglas didn’t like that two of his three sons were gay and blamed the Prime Minister once more for this egregious coincidence.

This is a man – John Douglas – whose father also killed himself in a “hunting accident.” A very clumsy family indeed.

Add to that John’s wife Sibel, whom after 4 sons and a daughter successfully sued for divorce in 1887 on the grounds of his adultery, which was not a thing at the time. The fact that she won in a time where women’s rights were all but not is insanity and shows the amount of people both in the public and within the court who had a distaste for the man. This is a man whose second marriage was annulled a year into it, another rare occurrence. Literally no one liked him.

John had an awful relationship will all three of his sons – the second one we have yet to discuss name was Percy – John called him “that so-called skunk of a son of mine” and disowned him for marrying a clergyman’s daughter. A scandal, indeed.

During the Oscar Wilde trials in 1895, John assaulted Percy on a London street leading to both men being arrested and charged with disturbing the peace to the tune of £500, and I’ll save you some time converting that to American dollars, it was a small fortune. In 1900 on his death bed John Douglas spat on Percy when he came to visit. So yeah, not a great relationship.

Three weeks following their father’s funeral, the new Lord Queensbury (Percy) and Lord Alfred visited Oscar Wilde in Paris. Wilde recalled that they were “in deep mourning and the highest spirits. The English are like this.”

John Douglas had two younger twin siblings. The brother committed suicide by slicing his own throat and the sister was Florence Dixie a famous feminist, war correspondent, traveler, and writer. Super interesting woman. Look her up later after you read this. Please don’t stop reading this.

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Florence Dixie, Queen of names

John Douglas – Whose other younger brother was Reverend Lord Archibald Edward Douglas, known for his role in Home Children.

HAVE YOU HEARD OF THIS?!  I HADN’T. It was the child migration scheme founded by Annie MacPherson in 1869 under which more than 100,000 children were sent from the United Kingdom to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. It’s not clear how much Lord Archibald knew of the whole slavery part of all of it, but still.

And then there was John’s other younger brother, Lord Francis Douglas for whom John’s eldest son and future hunting accident is named after – that died two years before his nephew with his namesake was born during the first ascent of The Matterhorn. And more specifically, on the first decent of the Matterhorn.

John is really in a pickle here after Lord Alfred turns out to be gay as well after his first son Lord Francis kills himself or is murdered because John is obviously intolerant but doesn’t want his younger son to die as well so he takes the fight to the man who didn’t deserve it – His younger son’s lover, Oscar Wilde. And so, the downfall begins.

The Golden Age of Climbing

The Alpine Club is why we know The Matterhorn to be the murder mountain that it is today. It was the first Alpine Club ever created in the UK or anywhere for that matter and was instrumental in the development of mountaineering during the golden age of alpinism which spanned from 1854 to 1865.

Said golden age was dominated by British alpinists and their Swiss and French guides. Or, well, you can call them guides if you wish but really they were Sherpa-esque people to help the Brits up the mountain while the English dinguses pretended to be adventurers to create stories in their heads for their aristocratic friends at future dinner parties.

The golden age started with Justice Willis, the judge from Oliver Wilde’s trial, summiting the Wetterhorn in 1854. He would then grow old before meeting Wilde, not sentencing the famous poet until 1895. Nonetheless, from 1854 on climbing mountains as sport became highly fashionable in the UK.

Despite several well-documented earlier ascents of the Wetterhorn and the fact that Justice Willis was guided to the top he still was so bold as to call himself the first. Even in his obituary it read “certainly the first who can be said with any confidence to have stood upon the real highest peak of the Wetterhorn proper.” Alright, dude.

Enter The Matterhorn

ascentThe First Ascent of The Matterhorn – the last mountain in the way of conquering the Swiss alps was led by Edward Whymper. He was in a race with a guy named Professor John Tyndall to reach the summit and had already failed eight times. Edward was to climb this time with a valued mountain man named Michael Croz who was then yoinked from him by Charles Hudson, another avid climber who also wanted to ascend the untamed beast. The night before both parties left they met to speak and decided to join each other as they had just learned an Italian party was also leaving in the morning.

Edwards crew in total was:

  • Edward Whymper, a 20 years old athletic artist and leader slash guy who really wanted to finally get to the top of this mountain.
  • Charles Hudson
  • Michael Croz
  • Douglas Hadow, Hudsons protégé
  •  2 Local Guides: Peter Taugwalder and his son of the same name
  • & Lord Francis Douglas (Only 18 at the time)

Before leaving Charles Hudson vouched for his partner Mr. Hadow saying that he had done Mont Blanc in less time than most men while exclaiming, “I consider he is a sufficiently good man to go with us!” This will be important later as Mr. Whymper will claim in retrospect the entire expedition going down hill was Mr. Hadows fault, whom history now considers a novice.

Whymper and party left Zermatt, the town beneath The Matterhorn, early in the morning of July 13, 1865. Meanwhile the Italian party began their ascent three hours earlier.

Even with Hadow needing “required continual assistance,” and starting hours after the Italians, the Whymper party summited successfully in two days time with Croz and Whymper reaching the top first.

Whymper writes: “The slope eased off, and Croz and I, dashing away, ran a neck-and-neck race, which ended in a dead heat. At 1.40 p.m. the world was at our feet, and the Matterhorn was conquered. Hurrah! Not a footstep could be seen.”

Precisely at this moment The Italian Party were approximately 400 meters below still dealing with the most difficult parts of the ridge. When seeing Whymper and crew on the summit said party gave up on their attempt and went back down.

Later historians would write of this moment, “In order to ensure his rivals knew they were beaten, Whymper rather unsportingly shouted at the Italian team from the top and hurled rocks to make a clatter. The Italians turned and fled.” I’ll take hubris for $1000, Alex.

After Whymper took his time to sketch the scene he built a tower of stones to commemorate the conquering of the Alps. The tired yet adrenaline filled group stayed an hour total on the summit then they began their descent of the treacherous Hörnli ridge.

The order on the rope during the descent was Croz going down first, followed by Hadow, then Hudson, Lord Douglas, old Peter Taugwalder, Whymper, with young Peter Taugwalder bringing up the rear.

The accident occurred due to Hadow slipping on the descent not far from the summit, pulling Croz, Hudson and Douglas down the north face of the mountain; the rope between these four and the other three members of the party, Whymper and the two  Peter Taugwalders father and son, snapped, saving them from the same fate. Some have blamed Hudson for insisting on the presence of the inexperienced Hadow in the party and for not checking the quality of the rope or the boots Hadow was wearing. Some have blamed Hadow for his known incompetence. Some have blamed the father Peter Taugwalder for giving up the fight to save his fellow climbers.

Whymper later described the deaths as follows:

“Michael Croz had laid aside his axe, and in order to give Mr. Hadow greater security was absolutely taking hold of his legs and putting his feet, one by one, into their proper positions. As far as I know, no one was actually descending. I can not speak with certainty, because the two leading men were partially hidden from my sight by an intervening mass of rock, but it is my belief, from the movements of their shoulders, that Croz, having done as I have said, was in the act of turning round to go down a step or two himself; at the moment Mr. Hadow slipt, fell against him and knocked him over. I heard one startled exclamation from Croz, then saw him and Mr. Hadow flying downward; in another moment Hudson was dragged from his steps, and Lord Francis Douglas immediately after him. All this was the work of a moment. Immediately we heard Croz’s exclamation, old Peter and I planted ourselves as firmly as the rocks would permit; the rope was taut between us, and the jerk came on us both as one man. We held, but the rope broke midway between Taugwalder and Lord Francis Douglas. For a few seconds we saw our unfortunate companions sliding downward on their backs, and spreading out their hands, endeavoring to save themselves. They passed from our sight uninjured, disappeared one by one, and fell from precipice to precipice on to the Matterhorngletscher below, a distance of nearly four thousand feet in height. From the moment the rope broke it was impossible to help them. So perished our comrades! For the space of half an hour we remained on the spot without moving a single step.”

Croz’s body together with those of Hudson and Hadow were recovered from the Matterhorn glacier. Croz was buried in the south side of Zermatt churchyard, on the other side from the graves of Hudson and Hadow. Lord Douglas, on the other hand, was never found.

The rival party of Italian alpinists reached the Matterhorn’s summit three days later and not one of them perished.

DID THE LOCAL GUIDE SAVE HIS SON AND WHYMPER BY CUTTING THE ROPE?!

Only father, son, and Whymper know.

A controversy ensued as to whether the rope had actually been cut, but a formal investigation could not find any proof. The accident haunted Whymper forever.

He writes, “Every night, do you understand, I see my comrades of the Matterhorn slipping on their backs, their arms outstretched, one after the other, in perfect order at equal distances—Croz the guide, first, then Hadow, then Hudson, and lastly Douglas. Yes, I shall always see them.”

Queen Victoria considered banning climbing to all British citizens but decided, after consultation, not to forbid mountaineering after this incident took place.

46 years later, shortly after returning home from another climb in the Alps, Whymper became ill, locked himself in his room, and refused all medical treatment. Whymper died sick and alone on at the age of 71.

Another Douglas Tragedy

The Matterhorn incident happened days before Lord Francis’ older brother John Douglas was to assume his majority as 9th Marquess of Queensberry. As guests gathered for a lavish celebration in his honor word came that Lord Francis Douglas had fallen to his death with three others after achieving the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn.

John Douglas traveled to Zermatt immediately with the intention of bringing home his brother’s body but came to find that nothing had been found of Lord Francis but some tattered shreds of his clothing. Upon hearing of his brothers fate John the Awful, without a guide and by moonlight, attacked the Matterhorn to find his younger brothers body. It was by only a matter of chance that two guides found and rescued him eventually before he died of the cold, unsuccessful.

John wrote apologetically to his sister Florence, “I thought and thought where he was, and called him, and wondered if I should ever see him again. I was half mad with misery, and I could not help it.”

Francis’ loss was deeply felt by his entire family. In 1876, Florence would accompany John on his return to Zermatt, and he would show her the slopes where Francis had died. Beyond the family, the tragedy was a long-running sensation, reported by newspapers all over the world.

To this day one of Hadow’s shoes can be seen in Zermatt’s Matterhorn Museum, together with the infamous snapped rope. main-image

Whymper’s 1871 book “Scrambles Amongst the Alps,” which detailed his Matterhorn climb closed with famous words of warning for fellow mountaineers: “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

In spite of Whymper’s words of caution, approximately five hundred mountaineers since 1865 have perished while scaling the Matterhorn, a death toll nearly double that of Mount Everest.

Oscar Wilde never wrote a poem about this brilliantly dangerous peak. It might have never entered his consciousness to care of the Swiss Alps at all. But the tangled web of this deadly mountain and his own personal grievances perhaps did deserve some prose.

While Thomas Hardy’s, another famous English novelist and poet, poem “Zermatt to the Matterhorn” has nothing to do with Wilde and his struggles against the norm, the words do ring true as to the mountains cruel nature and humanities inability to stray from a challenge. Thanks for reading.

Zermatt to the Matterhorn
by Thomas Hardy
Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
Seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
Labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
And four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
And when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
To that day’s tragic feat of manly might,
As though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
Thou watch’dst each night the planets lift and lower;
Thou gleam’dst to Joshua’s pausing sun and moon,
And brav’dst the tokening sky when Caesar’s power
Approached its bloody end: yea, saw’st that Noon
When darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

hiker-with-backpack-on-the-triail-near-Matterhorn

Eighth Grade: The Unbearable Heaviness

Bo Burnham’s movie Eighth Grade has a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes but not 100%.

Whether or not that is deserved is your personal preference but whenever a movie is doing really well on that website I LOVE to go read the comments of the reviewers who populate the negative side of the column and see if they have actual feelings about it as apposed to hating it for the chance to be singular. Hating haters feels so full circle.

Here is this article written by a lady whom I’d probably get along with in real life based on her spewing vitriol as it’s kinda also my thing.

The articles title: The unbearable heaviness of Bo Burnham’s ‘Eighth Grade’

In Eighth Grade, writer and director Bo Burnham depicts the female tween experience with such painful accuracy that it literally made me nauseous. I had to get up more than once during the viewing and pace the hallways of the theater, catch up on texts with friends, take deep breaths and steel myself to return.

So. You didn’t watch parts of the movie? Okie doke. I’ll make sure to skip the next few paragraphs of your article and then still try and eviscerate it so we’re matching! 

So far, the movie’s been universally lauded by critics, who are mesmerized by the film’s awkward realism, and most of all, mesmerized by Elsie Fisher as Kayla, its earnest, insecure and ultimately loveable protagonist.

Stop the presses, because I think you might secretly love this movie.

Everything you’ve heard is true; this really is the most realistic depiction of early teen angst I’ve ever seen on screen. Viewers are perpetually astonished by Kayla’s realistic demeanor and speech, which includes a lot of likes and ums, age-appropriate acne, difficulty looking people in the eye and a palpable anxiety.

But like I said before, the movie made me want to throw up. I was the opposite of entertained. I felt like I was getting drilled at the dentist in the center of a middle school gymnasium with kids pointing and laughing at me while opening mail about a bill past due and also on fire — and so, how can I possibly recommend this putrid experience to you?

Oh okay cool, sorry, I was unaware that your own glaring insecurities could make a movie objectively worse. Still think you love it, by the way.

We first meet Kayla while she films a YouTube video for her floundering real-talk vlog. Today’s topic: Being Yourself. You know, like not doing what everybody else is doing in order to be cool or whatever. It’s the last week of eighth grade, and besides the school shooting drills and ubiquitous cell phones, not much has changed since my own middle school horror show days, circa 1995.

…What? The outside is 100% different while humans don’t change, I believe is what you’re looking for here. You’re projecting so hard right now the light bulb in the projector is gonna burn out.

Children this age are essentially hormone-spewing monsters, which we see in chaotic classrooms and school assemblies refereed by exhausted teachers. It’s like what Mark says to Dawn in 1995’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, (pardon me, better movie): “High school is better. It’s closer to college. They’ll call you names, but not as much to your face.”

Movies from the 90’s were better because they happened a long time ago and I’m better for knowing they exist. 

At home, Kayla’s raised by a goofy, well-intentioned father (Josh Hamilton) who practices infinite patience with a daughter who we are meeting at the apex of her cruelty. I know Kayla can’t help but take out her social frustrations on a father who’s done nothing but sacrifice and support her, and phones are more interesting than dinner conversations, but still, these father-daughter interactions are not an easy thing to endure.

Don’t worry I am also still getting my Dad to love me, I just, ya know, don’t apply that feeling to the movies I watch to make me feel better about my misplaced hate. Is all.

What else is there to say?

Enough that you kept writing after you wrote this sentence.

Everything else you’re guessing might be present in a plot like this exists: Kayla likes the hottest guy in school, who mostly (but not entirely!) ignores her. But let’s not discount the affable goof hanging out on the film’s periphery. There are end-of-the-year pool parties, bathing suit panic attacks and embarrassments followed by genuine triumphs. And listen: Put down your tweet, folks. I’m aware that this is empirically a good movie and I’m basically incorrect and maybe even cowardly for my inability to stomach these plaintive truths.

I’ll do you one better and blog about it. I showed you! Also, you just said you liked the film. You didn’t, but you did. You’re aware that its good but it knocked on your feelings too hard for it to be good. I cringed during this movie a lot. Closed my eyes even. Because it put a mirror up in front of me and I was like hey, get that out of there, I’m disappointed in myself all the time and also there is a glare off that reflective surface that is making it hard to see the road while I rage type this. I’m not really driving, everything is okay. 

But might I posit that perhaps our premium on awkward indie realism is just a tad high?

I’d prefer it if you didn’t. See, now I’m letting my feelings get the better of me. I’m not better than you.

When you strip away this one poignant element, there’s not a lot left to the movie but a familiar coming-of-age trajectory and pretty bland, forgettable dialogue.

You’re the coolest girl this side of her own inferiority complex.

If you want to be reminded of the tortures of your youth, by all means, Eighth Grade is the picture for you. This summer movie season, you could see Ethan Hunt pilot a helicopter into a mountain to save humanity from nuclear holocaust, or you can watch a young person Google how to give a blow job. There’s room enough in cinema for all types of feelings.

Can Ethan Hawk pilot that same helicopter into your subconscious and lighten the mental load you’re currently dealing with that didn’t allow you to gain solace from this pretty bland coming of age tale?

My guess is no.

I disagree with you but also not really because you literally said the movie is good and then continued to complain about it which honestly is so me so I get it.

We’re very similar. We should make a movie about us for someone in Tennessee to hate and blog about. Deal? Deal. 

TOP 5 TOM HANKS FILMS: RYANKED

Ryanked has a silent Y, but it’s a Y nonetheless. Just take that in and then move on. It will be for the best.

RYANKED is a column in which I’m going to rank things. I’ve always enjoyed the art of ranking. And brackets. Holy heck do I love brackets. March Madness isn’t even that interesting, but it has brackets, so I’m so crazily on board. I use brackets for everything. Choosing places to eat, places to visit, things to throw, people to hate; everything!

And for my first Ryanked experience I’ve chosen a topic close to my heart: Tom Hank’s movies. The Hanks is a once in a generation talent who has made so many good movies it’s hard to pick your favorite let alone put them in order. I have to say for the record now; this is not a list of Tom Hank’s best movies. It’s a ranking of my favorite Hanks flicks. Ones that are close to my heart for one stupid reason or another. I’m not here to speak for you or your thoughts and opinions. I don’t know what those are because I am, to my dismay, not you. PS: I include animated movies because, well, because of a little story about toys coming to life. But I’ll get to that later.

Here’s my top 5 Hank’s films!

5. Saving Private Ryan

If you’d like a masterclass on how to begin a movie, Saving Private Ryan is a great example. The stakes are high right off the bat. And no, I’m not talking about the awe inspiring Normandy D-Day invasion scene. If you remember, that is what happens second. What happens first is an old man falls to his knees in front of a grave at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France. He is overwhelmed with emotion and he is crazy old. I don’t know about you but I sure as heck wanted to know more.

Tom Hanks is Captain John H. Miller, company commander, 2nd Ranger Battalion, U.S. Army. His job is to go find Private Ryan, who is the last surviving brother of four serviceman and also Matt Damon. By the way, Matt Damon got this role because Robin Williams took him and Ben Affleck over to meet Steven Spielberg while they were shooting Good Will Hunting and Mr. Spielberg was shooting Amistad. Upon meeting Matt Damon, Spielberg was taken aback as he recognized Damon from his brilliant performance in a Denzel flick called Courage Under Fire. Except, in that movie Damon was skinny as the dickens. When Spielberg realized that was only for the movie and Damon was in fact a normal sized human being, he was basically Private Ryan on that spot.

But anyway, if you want to know why Saving Private Ryan is on this list it’s because of this scene right here:

4. Catch Me if you Can

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks come together to make a movie. It’s a good one. That’s a story you can tell a few times. In fact, not putting Bridge of Spies (a 2016 Oscar nominee for best picture that shouldn’t win but is pretty good nonetheless) was tough as it was another Spielberg/Hanks joint. But Catch Me if you Can is special. It’s two titans of the industry: Leo v. Hanks.

One of the greatest con men of all time played by Mr. DiCaprio and his arch nemesis, FBI agent Carl Hanratty played to perfection by Hanks. The back and forth, the long monologues, and the chase to end all chases. Hanks is as versatile as any actor that has ever been on screen. If you’d like to prove that watch Big and Philadelphia back to back. But when he dons a pair of glasses and a watchful eye on the law, he really shines. He’s the authority figure with a heart that you can root against and for simultaneously. Also, for both effect and heart string fodder, Carl Hanratty misses his daughter and still wears his wedding ring. What’s not to root for?

3. Apollo 13

In 2010 I watched Apollo 13 every night for four months. It was what I used to fall asleep. Thankfully I’d usually be asleep before Houston found out about a certain problem; otherwise I would never fall asleep. The moment where I was usually drifting off into space was the same one Hanks playing astronaut Jim Lovell, along with his wife, look up at the moon as he points out the mountain he named after her: Mount Marilyn.

Directed by Richie “narrator of Arrested Development” Cunningham, Apollo 13 brings you into space with Hanks along with the guy who yells as Helen Hunt in Twister, and the center of a large bacon themed actors connection game. Hanks again plays the guy in charge, always level headed and focused on the task at hand. Even in the toughest of times you feel as though a Hank’s character will pull you through safely. But can he do so even when his vehicle explodes in space? I don’t know, but I will probably have to watch it another 4 months in a row to reacquaint myself with that particular answer. Here’s a clip of Hanks explaining a tragedy to Aaron from Full House.

2. Toy Story

Toy Story launched Pixar into the stratosphere, much like Buzz Lightyear could also definitely do. Hank’s performance as the local sheriff slash Andy’s cowboy slash guy in charge jumps off the screen and into children’s hearts. Toy Story showed eight year old me that a whole other world of movies could exist and be executed to perfection.

Fun fact: because Tom Hanks is super busy being Tom Hanks, all of the Woody voiceovers minus the actual movies, are done by Tom Hank’s brother, Jim. There’s a Jim Hanks and his main job is to sound like his brother. That’s such a bummer for him. Someone should ask Jim if he’s sad and while wiping tears away with money he will reply, “Of course I am.”

Toy Story is the greatest animated movie of all time and in my opinion should have been nominated for Best Picture in 1996. It would have gone up against Apollo 13 and Braveheart, but you tell me how many moments in cinematic history make you feel happier than Buzz and Woody falling with style? Also, Apollo 13 and Toy Story in the same year, Tom Hanks? That’s not even fair.

I’d still give it to Braveheart by the way. That movie is so dope.

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1. Forrest Gump

This Christmas my family sat down and watched one of my favorite movies of all time: Forrest Gump. When you talk about movies that narrowly miss impossible perfection, Forrest Gump is on that list.

I won’t quote this movie to shreds, although you could. I won’t expound upon the fact that Tom Hanks won his second Best Actor Oscar in two years for this movie. I won’t dive deeply into how that part near the end when Forrest asks if Jenny’s son is smart makes me break down faster than an old Honda. I won’t even mention that Forrest shows his ass to President Lyndon B. Johnson  OH WAIT I JUST DID but anyway – I won’t elaborate on all of those amazing things. Because this movie doesn’t need elaboration. It covers the spectrum. From heartfelt to hilarious. From sincere to silly. This movie has something for everyone.

The coolest part for me about this movie is that during all of the initial screen tests, Tom Hanks wasn’t that good. I’m not kidding. You can go find them on the internets but I wouldn’t recommend it. As Tom Hanks was preparing for this movie and doing screen tests with Robin Wright (Jenny/Claire Underwood) he had to break out his first impression of Forrest Gump and it was god awful. If I was the director and watching these screen tests, I would have chosen someone else. Which is why Robert Zemeckis (of Back to the Future fame, another nominee for near movie perfection) is a stone cold genius for choosing Hanks anyway. Watch this interview about how Hanks found Gump’s voice. Hanks instinctual compromise created one of most beloved characters ever. That’s talent, people.

 

Not including movies like Castaway, Philadelphia (which he won Best Actor for), BIG with the piano(!), A League of Their Own (crying and also baseball), the underrated Charlie Wilson’s War, Polar Express where he voiced practically every character, and The Green Mile for gosh sakes, plus many more….it burns within me not to have these films on this list. But they’re not so good riddance to them! Translation: I’m genuinely sad about it!

Have something else you’d like me to rank? Write it in the comments. And until next time, this has been Ryanked. The Y is silent. Later days.

River Manor: Behind the Series!

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My friends and I created a season of television for the internet. I guess you could call that a web series. Or a miniseries. You can call it whatever you want. I wrote 6 intertwining stories and then we filmed them and now we’re showing them to the world to see if the world hates them. That’s the gist.

Here is where I’m going to post all of them and then write about each one along with adding behind the scenes photos and videos, mostly for my own enjoyment, so if you happen to take something positive away from this or are entertained in any way, that’s all gravy to me. Okay cool!

Oh also, S1E1 means Season 1 Episode 1. We’re all learning!

S1E1: “The Deli Caper”

I’m not good at writing pilots or introducing characters. I don’t like spoon feeding exposition and that is what a pilot wants to be most of the time. I had to be reminded the whole time we were filming this to make sure and say everyone’s names so the audience knows what to call us. Even that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like insulting an audience’s intelligence, although in retrospect I should have bowed to that whim a bit more than I did.

I decided as I was writing the season that I was just gonna throw the audience into a whirlwind and see how they like it. Which is what this pilot ended up being. Also, the pilot sets up a big theme for the series which I call “filling the shot.” I wanted most shots to have 2 or more things happening in them at once. I wanted the audience to have to watch the episode a few times to catch everything. One of my favorite movies is Ocean’s 11 – I’ve watched it around 25 times and I still catch new things to this day. It gets me going, so I assumed it would get other people going as well. If you’ve already watched this, watch it again and see what new things you find. In fact, that applies to all of these episodes. Watch them all about 10 times if possible.

Oh, and the shot of us running across the backyard and Marc getting pummeled? Jo really hit him. Hard. Don’t be fooled by her tiny stature. She hits like a monster and we did that 6 times. Marc was sore for a week. It was hilarious.

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S1E2: “Everyone is Poisoned”

This is the first episode we shot which was purposeful. I wanted our first go at making this series to only have the 4 main characters in it so that we could build some semblance of chemistry and then carry that over to other episodes where there are more characters with screen time. This is also the day we realized GBaby’s character is wonderful in his simplicity which would be a constant theme throughout the season.

I go back and forth between what episodes are my favorites and this one always seems to pop up in my mind. I love Steph’s makeup, I love the Frasier scene & the good cop bad cop with Marc and Elliot, I love the dubstep Frasier at the end and how GBaby keeps eating the poisoned food the entire time. In fact go back and watch this episode and just watch GBaby. You’re welcome.

Marc and I acted out the good cop bad cop scene most nights for 4 months prior to shooting this. In fact that is the way most of this series was fleshed out. Marc and I sitting on our porch and acting the entire episode ourselves. We rewrote the entirety of episode 4 that way, but more on that later. Also, as a last note, this is the episode we had Alex Meeske on set for and you can tell if you know him that he was there. That warbler line G says? That was his. Fun facts!

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S1E3: “Elliot Finally Shuts the Fuck Up”

This episode was to do 2 things. First off I wanted to show that Elliot’s character is basically the house scapegoat and secondly I wanted to introduce every character the audience hadn’t met yet.

At Elliot’s forced wedding we meet his insufferable brother Peter played by one of our Executive Producers, Johnrobert Vergati. You also get to check up on our local cockneyed talking delusion ridden Milk Toast played by our EP/DP Dylan after meeting Milk in episode 1 along with the ever quiet and mysterious Olive Druthers played by Stephanie Vergati who has a nice lil’ monologue in this episode. Then we add Olive’s best friend Lola Montez played by Allie Rivera, one of the funniest humans I know, throw in some Robinson Mahler, who brings a sort of grounded delusion you don’t really get anywhere else in the series played masterfully by Justin Hagen and then Jo is back, no longer tied up and in straight up in the dating game with Marc who is eye banging her most of this episode. Oh, and I can’t forget Abigail playing Elliot’s new Russian mail order bride, Ulyana Larinov!

This is a good time to talk about how we shot these scenes. There was no script. There was a detailed outline – sometimes I would give people lines to say, sometimes I didn’t. That means we built every new scene from scratch as we filmed it, did an average of 6 takes per shot with two cameras running, and usually used the last take.

We talked a whole lot prior to shooting about these characters with every actor who I chose specifically for their ability to make funny shit up on the spot. Some of the best parts of this series are things I didn’t write, and that’s my favorite. I bring this up soon after bringing up Abby’s Uly because she was so super worried she wouldn’t nail the Russian accent that she had me write every word of hers out. She then came in and murdered it anyway at which point I started making her say more things she hadn’t practiced, much to her dismay and much to my delight. And hopefully yours as well.

Also, it was raining that day. All of these shoots were one day long and that day the wedding was supposed to be out in the back yard but it was raining. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the garage looks like the absolute worst place to have a wedding, which Lola points out and to me makes it that much neater.

Here’s a behind the scenes video of JR hitting Elliot in the balls a bunch of times:

S1E4: “In Stapp We Trust”

Up until a few weeks before shooting began in the Summer of 2015 this episode was something completely different. Originally this episode was going to be called “Bed and Breakfast” of which the general gist was going to be that the boys opened up a B&B a la those food carts people open sometimes where their main selling point is being mean to their customers.

The boys plan goes awry once the first two people trying out the B&B is Lola and Olive and Lola basically takes over the entire day as GBaby and Marc escape by swimming away down the river while Ryan yells at them to come back and follow through on an idea for once instead of running away. In response, G and Marc tell him to shut up and keep swimming.

In all reality I wanted an episode that explained how good of friends Lola and Olive were and that idea was my chosen vehicle. But from idea to execution it felt weird. It just wasn’t written well and I didn’t like it which is something I made clear to Marc one night after coming home from the bar. And it was in that moment Marc pitched that he start a cult, and then I pitched that it be about Scott Stapp, and then we both improv’d the entire episode in the hallway in about 15 minutes. Then, still a little drunk, I opened up my laptop and wrote the episode, intertwining the Olive and Lola story line into the Stapp story line. Marc gets a writing credit on this one and deservedly so but he also brings a gravitas in this episode that was absolutely amazing to watch from the other side of the camera. He hit his stride acting wise as a cult leader, nonetheless. I don’t know if it’s the best one, but it’s the one we all laughed the most on set and that’s for damn sure.

S1E5: “Step Up Your Hat Game, Fool”

Most of the people around me thought this episode would suck from the beginning and I can see why. This is the most insular idea I chose to do. It’s based on inside joke after inside joke that I had the task of making into outside jokes as well. Step Up Your Hat Game, Fool acts in dual capacities. One is as the 5th episode of the first season of River Manor and secondly it is basically a time capsule for my late 20s. And from the outside looking in that looked like, to everyone else around me on the project, like not that much fun.

Until you see Marc and I screaming at a camera, or G fighting a plant, or Elliot dumping Sunny D on himself – Until you hear the soundtrack that JR put together – until you see that this episode is by all accounts a concerto of dialogue that ebbs and flows with a rampaging sense of urgency – until you see all of those things live I can very much understand how you could think it would suck.

Thankfully I love this episode and how weird it is. AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO sorry that was pushy have a nice day LIKE IT LIKE IT NOW.

S1E6: “Olive’s Low Key Get Together”

Season finales are important to me. When I was being a child I didn’t read enough, and it’s not because I didn’t enjoy reading. It was because Television was so god damn entertaining.

As I started to figure out what stories were and the kinds of them that I liked, I realized that one of my favorite parts of a Television series is that it’s stretched out. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end – and all of them matter. With a movie you can skip the middle sometimes and still be just fine in the last 20 minutes. Television doesn’t allow for that. There are small details everywhere, there are character developments that happen in mere moments, and there is an ongoing decay that you as the audience member are tasked to observe and understand. The season finale is the ultimate payoff for all of it.

River Manor is not exactly like television, though. Character arcs are sporadic, plot details are heavy handed, and each episode can choose to be closed into itself at any given moment it chooses. That is, until you reach the finale, at which point you will perhaps realize it was all connected the entire time LIKE MAGIC. Hopefully. At the very least, that’s what I was trying to do. You, the audience, can be the judge of the success of that.

On a more grounded level, this finale was shot on one very long Saturday that was a day of pure exhilaration for me. We were filmmaking by the seat of our pants that day more than any other time we broke out a camera and hoped for the best. It was so much stupid fun.

If you liked this series at all I would urge you to watch it again. Every episode is meant to be watched multiple times with tiny little details you’ll pick up that you didn’t see before including running gags that wrap themselves up in the finale – one of which goes 6 episodes long and is my favorite thing ever.

But anyway, thanks to everyone who worked on this project and thanks to everyone whom enjoyed it. This is my favorite thing I’ve ever done. Okay cool bye.

 

 

 

 

One Man Show

Yesterday started so normal. Then. In other parts of yesterday. It got weirder.

I’ve had this idea floating around in my brain for like 4 months where I would make a short film about all of the embarrassing but incredibly normal things we as human beings do when we are home alone in our comfort zones. It is being alone with ourselves that I find the most interesting. (that sentence makes me sound like a freshman Philosophy major who sleeps through class because he doesn’t respect the value of a dollar.)

So. Yesterday. Yeah.

I went to work. On a Monday. Because it was a Monday. And you know this thing about Monday’s – and I’m 100% sure no one has ever mentioned this before and I am the genius who came up with this first forever…Monday’s aren’t great.

And you know why they aren’t great? Because on the weekend, if you were lucky, you got some alone time. And alone time is the best. It’s when you get to think. And feel. And love. And hate. And Master….skills. You thought it was going another way there. But I didn’t. Because I’m an adult.

So I had this video idea of being by yourself but narrating everything that was happening in your brain and I had a web-series that I’m writing. So, I thought hey, let’s destroy two birds with one stone and put those two things together. That’s my life right now by the way. The web-series that we’re shooting in June. I’m writing it and I have been for 6 months. It’s been done for 3 months. I’ve been editing every day. Rewriting entire episodes. It’s sort of all I think about when I’m not talking. Just for perspective.

When I was re-writing an episode I had the idea of making all of the characters do this thing where they narrate what they do by themselves and we see the differences between all of the characters. I thought it was a good idea. But it just didn’t work for me. I got no juice from it. I couldn’t wrap my head about it fully, so I had another idea, and wrote it. But I still liked the by myself idea as a concept.

Then came yesterday. I was bored. Finished my work. Low on creative energy. And a spark hit me which was so cool because it doesn’t happen very often. I texted my talented friend Steph, asked her if I came over her house in 30 minutes if she slap makeup on my face gracefully, she said yes because she’s the nicest. I went there. We talked about the video. She told me what it should be called, “One Man Show.” And then I left. Got home. Got the camera. Took out my new Rode Smartlav+ Microphone that hooks into your iPhone and or Android device. And went for it. 3 hours of shooting. Made it all up. 39 minutes of material. Imported it all. Edited sound on 27 clips. Synced the audio and the video. Edited for 3 hours. Cut it down to 8 minutes or something like that. And it was done and on YouTube. This entire paragraph is a humblebrag that makes me feel uncomfortable.

And I like it the final product of the video, which is a nice thing too.

I think I want to make this a series because it was fun to make and other peoples alone stories fascinate me. The stuff you do when you’re alone is so weird, and gross, and self righteous, and full of hubris, shame, love, hope, fear – you cover every emotion on the spectrum in complete silence looking at popcorn ceilings and sunsets. That stuff is beautiful and normal and so so so so so so funny. To me, it’s the times with no audience whatsoever people have the ability to be the best or worst versions of themselves – and that journey by yourself, I think, is inherently funny.

Also, for the record, I do hope very much that I get at least a C in my freshman Philo class – that Prof is such a narc.