Cuchulainn: An Excerpt

Ben Stein assembled his film crew for a meeting, and said: “Now comes the hard part, arriving at a consensus of opinion concerning Cuchulainn’s appearance in the movie. What common threads can we use to weave a pattern suggesting his presence.”

Sean O’Mara felt uncomfortable with the whole idea, and he replied: “Sure, Cuchulainn is from the North. What do I know about him? Why don’t we just leave him out of it?”

Ben deliberated for an instant, and said: “Okay! I’ll tell you why. Because it’s my movie. In order to set the audience up for Cuchulainn’s appearance in the climatic fight scene against the IRA renegades, he first appears on an ancient Celtic battlefield and then on the modern Irish football field.”

Tom Collins paced back and forth, and said: “From my understanding, and of course I’m not from the North either, where this story originated, but wasn’t Cuchulainn kind of ordinary, even sub-ordinary in ways? Short and ugly. Yet opponents on the battlefield often thought they faced a monster. While exaggerated stories told afterwards described him as tall and handsome. He was actually a demigod, an ugly little human on the outside yet propelled by an immortal being on the inside. Cuchulainn’s whole purpose for existing as a human was his bond of service to the Faustian deal which his inner immortal being had made with the King of Ireland, so called.”

Ben interrupted: “That’s too complicated. We can’t assume the audience knows any of that. For our purposes, let’s make it a god and a goddess, Sean and Veronica together, wearing special costumes, some highlighting effects, music and such. Here’s what we’ll see on the film when we’re done. The football field morphs into an ancient battlefield and then back into a football field again, indicating that Sean is the reincarnation of Cuchulainn.”

Tom Collins interjected: “But wasn’t it hurling Cuchulainn invented?”

Ben shot back: “It doesn’t matter. This is a movie, we can do it whatever way we want. It’s how I saw it myself that day. I had a clear vision. And a strong feeling. That’s how I’m trying to convey it. Yet, in a film, everything becomes allegorical, with hidden meaning underlining superficial appearance.”

Tom muttered: “I’ll take your word on that.”

Ben continued: “Even though the time frame shifts back and forth, we’ll work to show the connectivity of events past and present. The old conflicts and grudges will be dissipated in America by a spiritual cleansing, finally reaching a conclusion at some point by dealing with this IRA issue. We can’t just ignore it.”

Tom challenged: “Why not? I thought you said this was a movie and we could make it whatever way we want?”

Ben responded: “Because the movie needs to be relevant. And, many people around the country find bank robbing IRA renegades in America to be a fascinating story, involving greed and the excessive use of violence. When will that end? They want to know.”

“And how does your movie help things?” Tom asked as he looked around at the empty warehouse Ben had leased for rehearsals and indoor sets. At the far end of the large open space a series of trailers served as dressing rooms. Reporters flocked around one particular trailer, and Tom remarked: “Can’t they leave Sean alone for a single moment?”

Ben ignored the comment, and continued with what he had been saying: “We’ll shoot the battlefield scenes and the campsites on a farm outside the city. I found a lovely spot by the river. Your sense of history could be useful here, Tom. Work with my technical people on this, check the costumes, the overall look of the set, things like that.”

Directing suited Tom Collins: he had a knack for visualizing and the ability to communicate. Ben saw that right away and he stopped mentioning the IRA issue for awhile to allow Tom freedom to focus on the ancient scenes.

A Chieftain’s Hall was constructed and an amazing party broke out as they began filming the music, dancing, and singing bards. Ben felt delighted with Tom’s progress. He marveled at how authentic they appeared, as if time hadn’t changed a thing except their costumes. Keeping their cups full, he hoped to film all night long.

Tom made sure the technical staff stayed sober enough to function. “I want at least one camera on Sean and Veronica at all times,” he instructed: “Pan another camera back and forth across the dancers and then another on the tables. Keep an eye on the hounds, I don’t want them loose until we’re ready.”

Sean looked impressive, yet uncomfortable, sitting on a crudely built wooden throne. “What’s a chieftain supposed to act like,” he wondered aloud during a break.

Veronica leaned over to kiss his cheek, and drawled: “You don’t act for that, darling. You’re either regal or you’re not. You are.”

Tom would have preferred Katy on the throne next to Sean instead of Veronica but he accepted Ben’s decision without protesting. To prepare Sean for the next sequence of scenes, he said:

“As their chieftain, you’ll be leading these men into battle at dawn. Imagine yourself hosting such a party for your football team on the night before a big game. With one important difference. It’s a fight to the finish, death to the loosers, winner take all. And you don’t know if you’ll see any of them alive again after the game.”

On hearing this, Sean said: “Then why am I sitting here? Why aren’t I out on the floor dancing?”

“We’ll get to that,” Tom assured him.

With everyone in place, the cameras began to roll again. Toast after toast, dance after dance, the bards and the warriors, the maids and the maidens, they all worked themselves into a fierce frenzy. Finally, the Druids chanted a mystic spell, giving their blessings to the battle. And, as Sean arose from his throne to deliver the attack command, it was well past four in the morning. Ben wanted to call it a wrap but everyone else felt raring to go.

“Sure now, we’re already in the mood,” Sean said: “Let’s keep it going and do the fight scenes at dawn.”

“Let’s do it then,” Tom responded.

Ben thought for an instant, and said: “We’ll need a bigger cast to do broad views. But we can walk through it now and do some important close ups. We’ll do the rest later this week.”

Before cameras started rolling again, Tom went over the next scenes: “According to tradition, the high leader can be easily identified during battles. He has flags unfurled and flapping in the breeze around him, a bard stands beside him playing the harp, chanting his praises, while the best fighters stand armed and ready to protect him. A fierce battle will ensue if a confrontation of opposing chieftains should ever take place. But that rarely happens. By longstanding agreement, the preferred method to settle disputes is to have the chieftian on each side select a champion to represent them in a controlled battle. That keeps losses to a minimum for all concered.”

Ben countered: “Let’s not even do the champion thing. Let’s make it a big battle with everybody involved. As the final scene of the ancient sequence begins, the battlefield will be littered with dead and dying, the two chieftains, the two standard bearers, the two bards, and a few warriors on each side being the last ones standing. Then the two chieftains finally clash, leaving Sean as the last man standing on the battlefield. A crowd looks on from a distance, representing the football fans of the future. In the finished film we’ll make that connection clearly apparent.”

As footage accumulated, Ben introduced Tom to editing. Within a few weeks, they had the ancient battlefield scenes nearly completed. A series of Irish football exhibitions were scheduled in the large stadium featuring Pittsburgh against Chicago, Detroit, and a traveling team of all-stars from Ireland. Sean quickly got back into game shape with a dominant performance: perfect for the movie. After looking at the rushes, Ben told him: “We couldn’t have planned this any better. You’re a genius.”

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