Monthly Archives: May 2016

Red Star Rogue and America’s Hiroshima

On March 7, 1968, The United States was within seconds of being hit by a nuclear blast 100 times more destructive than the A-bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Over 500,000 people would have died immediately in Hawaii, and radiation would have made most of the Hawaiian Islands uninhabitable for decades. This is not the plot of a fiction thriller. It really happened, and is documented in Red Star Rogue by Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond.

Red Star Rogue was first published in 2005, yet most people today have not heard of the book or the incident it documents.  This is probably since Red Star Rogue covers a topic most of us do not want to think about. We desperately want to believe that the threat of nuclear war is just a part of history, and that the U.S. was never in any real danger of a nuclear strike.

Red Star Rogue

Red Star Rogue

Red Star Rogue contends that on March 7, 1968 the Soviet   submarine K-129 surfaced 360 miles from Honolulu and prepared a nuclear missile for launch.  Who exactly authorized the strike remains a mystery. The authors state that it must have been fanatical political elements very high up in the Soviet Union.  Only a handful of people would have had access to the launch codes.  This group thought that a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United  States could actually be won by the Soviets.  They believed that Americans were to weak to accept massive losses, while the Soviet people would make that sacrifice.

Soviet Golf II class ballistic missile submarine similar to K-129

Soviet Golf II class ballistic missile submarine similar to K-129

It is a frighting story, but how much of Red Star Rogue is true and how much is pure speculation on the part of the authors? It is a fact that on March 7, 1968 a Soviet submarine equipped with nuclear missiles  sank  off Hawaii. We also know that was operating hundreds of miles away from where the Soviet Navy thought it was. The mere fact that the Soviet Union did not know where one of its nuclear-equipped subs was, is frighting by itself.

It is a fact that The Soviet Union accused the U.S. submarine Swordfish of deliberately ramming and sinking K-129. A few months later, the American submarine Scorpion was lost in the Atlantic while observing a Soviet navel exercise. Most American military experts believe the Soviets sank the USS Scorpion in retaliation for the loss of K-129.

However, Red Star Rogue contends that K-129 sank because a fail-safe mechanism on the missile blew up when the sub tried to launch a nuclear strike against the United States without all the proper codes.  It is a fascinating theory and the authors present compelling arguments and documentation for this scenario.

USS Scorpion, Believed to have been sunk by the Soviets

USS Scorpion, Believed to have been sunk by the Soviets

The one problem with the book, however, is that the authors do not emphasize enough that this is a theory not a fact. They do not give enough weight to the many other possible ways the Soviet sub may have been lost.  It is a very real possibility that the U.S. Navy actually did sink the Soviet sub for daring to get too close to Hawaii.

However, regardless of what really happened to K-129, Red Star Rogue is a fascinating and frighting read.  The Soviet Union is  gone, and the Cold War never turned into the nuclear annihilation that people feared. However, it is quite possible that the U.S. was much closer to nuclear war that its citizens were ever told.

 

 

 

 

Ric Flair -“To Be The Man”

Ric Flair’s 2004 book, To Be The Man is a fascinating glimpse into the old days of professional wrestling. Even if you are not a professional wrestling fan it is an enjoyable nostalgic read.

Of course, professional wrestling is not a real athletic contest, but the people in it are superb athletes. Professional wrestling is basically a traveling circus. Like circuses, many of the performers are part of families that have been in the business for generations.

Young Ric Flair in his fancy robe

Young Ric Flair in his fancy robe

It is also a very nomadic life, especially for the lower level wrestlers. They perform in one city, then right after the show get in cars to drive to the next city to perform the following night. Unless you are one of the stars you probably  have to do  double duty by helping set up the ring and chairs in the arena.

But how do you get to be a professional wrestling champ in something that is not a real sport? Who actually decides the winners and losers? Ric Flair’s book shows how it is the fans that ultimately decide who will become great. The key to becoming a professional wrestling champion is to get the fans excited about you. You want the fans to love you or hate you, as long as they don’t ignore you.

Ric Flair uses models to promote himself

Ric Flair uses models to promote himself

Ric Flair made himself a wrestling star by inventing innovative ways to promote himself and get the fans and press to notice him. He used his own money to get publicity and start acting like a star long before the fans had ever heard of him. It is sort of what the Kardashians do today. He made himself famous by simply acting like he already was famous.

Ric Flair would get to a city the day before a wrestling match and go to a modeling agency. He would hire 3 or 4 beautiful models for the night of the match.  When it was his turn to wrestle, he would  walk down the ramp to the ring, with these beautiful women hanging on his arms and pretending to be his girlfriends.  He also spent a fortune on his wrestling costumes, with robes and boots costing thousands of dollars. The fans got a real show just seeing Ric Flair walk into the ring, before the match even started.  The fans loved his antics and  soon demanded to see more of “The Nature Boy”.

Ric Flair with Hulk Hogan. Flair thought Hogan was a terrible athlete since Hogan can wrestle for no more than 15 minutes without getting tired.

Ric Flair with Hulk Hogan. Flair thought Hogan was a terrible athlete since Hogan can wrestle for no more than 15 minutes without getting tired.

However, all of the promotion is just what got Ric Flair noticed. It was his athletic ability that made him great. The stamina and strength to be a professional wrestler is incredible.   Whenever they are  not in a match, wrestlers are working out. Ric Flair’s warm up routine before even starting his regular exercises was to do 300 sit-ups, 300 pushups and 300 squat thrusts.

Ric Flair showing that he still has the muscles

Ric Flair showing that he still has the muscles

If you can find a copy of To Be The Man, we recommend it as a fun summer read.

Money Monster – too preachy, too predictable- too dangerous

The old saying “If I wanted to hear a sermon I would have gone to church”, applies very well to the movie Money Monster.  My biggest worry after watching this movie is that some person already teetering on the edge will follow the theme of the movie and decide that the only way to “fix the system” is to march down to a T.V.  studio with a gun and a bomb and demand to be heard.  We have already had many real incidents like this at schools, businesses and even national parks.  Do we really need a movie glorifying  this type of behavior?

money 1

The movie repeatedly beats the audience over the head with the following well-worn themes

  1. Wall Street is bad.
  2. The whole financial system is rigged.
  3. Little people don’t earn enough.
  4. Corporate CEOs are evil guys.
  5. If you can just get on T.V. and say the truth the average people will listen.
  6. Police are all trigger happy killers.
  7. T.V. personalities are actually kind and caring people if only given the chance.

George Clooney stars  as Lee Gates, the slick  host of a financial advice T.V. show called Money Monster. The T.V. show is all flash and no substance. Lee realizes it it just “show biz”, but unfortunately some of his viewers actually think they are watching well thought out financial analysis.

One of those viewers is  Kyle Budwell (well played by Jack O’Connell) who lost 100% of his inheritance on a stock (IBIS Industries) which Lee gates recommended. Kyle then takes Lee hostage on air with a gun and a suicide vest and demands to be heard.

money 4

Lee Gates decides the only way to save his own life is to help Kyle investigate why IBIS stock really crashed. Lee is helped by the show’s director Patty (played by Julia Roberts) With the aid of Russian computer hackers she is able to instantly tap into all the world’s computer networks and find out the truth behind the stock crash.

money 2

Money Monster is fast paced and has excellent acting. The problem is that it is so preachy in its anti-corporate theme that at times it feels more like you are watching a political ad than a movie.

We are supposed to quickly come over to the point of view of Kyle (the hostage taker) and root for his success. He is an interesting character, but we were just never able to like him as much as the movie wanted us to. Kyle was stupid enough to bet all the money he had in the world on 1 stock he saw recommended by a guy dancing on T.V. in a sparkle-covered  top hat.  Then when that investment tanks, instead of blaming himself, Kyle picks up a gun and a bomb.

On the actual news we have all seen enough people with guns and bombs trying to “save us” by taking hostages or blowing up buildings filled with people. Do we really need a movie cheering for  one of them?

 

 

 

Alicia von Rittberg off Game of Thrones

Rumors are that  Alicia von Rittberg  pulled out of Game of Thrones after repeated tensions between her and Emilia Clarke.  Alicia von Rittberg had been scheduled to play a recurring role as a witch with the ability to become invisible.  This role would have required nude scenes for Alicia von Rittberg, which would have been her first.

Alicia von Rittberg

Alicia von Rittberg

Apparently, Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen was not at all happy with the idea of a competing naked magical beauty on the set. Unconfirmed reports are that a screaming match between Emilia Clarke and the writers resulted in Alicia von Ritterg’s role being eliminated.

Emilia Clarke upset on Game of Thrones

Emilia Clarke upset on Game of Thrones

We do not know if these rumors are true However, we are sure that fans of Alicia von Rittberg will not be seeing her on Game of Thrones this season.

 

 

6 Keys To Success In Union Negotiation

If you are representing Management in negotiating a union contract, here are the 6 most important points to make it a success.

Know What You Want – It is amazing how many management teams enter a union negotiation not having worked out ahead of time what they are trying to accomplish. You need to have a detailed plan before you start of exactly what you want each point of the final contract to look like.  Write it down, and make sure the union never sees that document.

 Prepare for  a Strike – Of course you don’t want a strike, but you have to realize that  sometimes a company  needs to weather a strike rather than accept a particular demand. If you decide ahead of time that you can never afford a strike then the union can get anything it wants by simply threatening to strike. Decide ahead of time what items the company will compromise on and which items you will never accept even at the cost of a strike.

Union On Strike!

Union On Strike!

Don’t Get Emotional – The laws and customs  regarding labor negotiations are not the same for the union and management. Labor is allowed to behave with “focused enthusiasm” , while management is always expected to “bargain in good faith.” The term “focused enthusiasm” means that periodically the Labor representatives may scream, use profanity  and possibly even jump up and down at the negotiating table. I was in one negotiation where the Union representative did all 3 simultaneously.  The important thing to remember is that while the company is a business, the union is a political organization. In order to get re-elected, the union reps have to convince their members that they are really fighting for the workers. Sometimes that means putting on a big show of yelling at management.

Know The Labor Law – If you are not sure, then bring a labor attorney with you to the bargaining table.  Otherwise, a minor slip of the tongue can spell disaster. For example if the union wants a high raise, a management person might want to say, “the company can’t afford that”. If you ever say  “the company can’t afford that”, then according to labor law the company is “pleading poverty.” Once a company pleads poverty during a negotiation, then the union has the right to completely examine the all the confidential books of the company to see if that statement is true.

Let The Union Think It Won – Once a tentative contract is reached, the union reps have to sell it to their members for ratification.  You need labor to feel it got a good deal.  Don’t go around making press releases of how you “beat” the union. In fact, don’t say anything at all. Let the union do all the talking about what a great contract they got. Remember, you are just interested in the monetary results. The union needs to get the political win.

Respect the Union and the Workers – This is perhaps the most important point of all. When the contract is signed and ratified, you all have to go back to work together to make the company a success. The management team needs to treat the union and the workers with respect throughout the negotiations, no matter how hostile the union gets.  As elitist as it sounds, management needs to operate on a higher level. A year or two after the contract is signed the workers and union reps may not even remember the exact wording of different clauses in the contract. But they will remember if you personally insulted them.

I have represented Management in numerous successful  union negotiations, and I hope these guidelines help you in yours.

 

 

The Last Man On Earth Takes a Dark Turn

The Fox T.V. comedy The Last Man On Earth took a wickedly dark turn that has made a great show even better. What makes the The Last Man On Earth great is that it is the antithesis of most science fiction survival shows. In your standard post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi show, the survivors are the brightest  and the best. They are strong and beautiful and brave and brilliant. The leader is the best of the best and always makes the right decision.

Cast of The Last Man On Earth

Cast of The Last Man On Earth

Any real Apocalypse would be much different. The survivors would be a random mix of all different types. In The Last Man On Earth, the year is 2022 and a virus has killed almost all  people and animals on the earth. The few survivors have no special characteristics, except for the fact that simply by chance they happen to be immune to the disease. The unlikely  leader of the group is Phil (Tandy) Miller, brilliantly play by Will Forte.

Will Forte and Kristen Schaal

Will Forte and Kristen Schaal

Tandy  is not very bright and has no self esteem whatsoever. He has an overwhelming desire to have people like him, and consequently often resorts to lies to try to seem better than he really is. However, despite all his flaws, it is consistently his ideas and luck that bring the group together whenever they are about to fall apart.

Jason Sueikis

Jason Sueikis

But this is no ordinary comedy. The show killed off 2 characters in the first 2 seasons and season 3 ended with what appears to be the death of another main character. In addition,  the season ends with our small group of survivors about to be attacked by another group that has suddenly appeared with guns.

As silly as it seems, we have actually gotten to love these characters over a few short seasons of T.V. It is the fact that they are not heroic or brave that makes them seem so real. They argue about petty things and have stupid annoying habits just like real-world people. Our favorite character is Tandy’s wife Carol (wonderfully played by Kristen Schaal) She is quirky and has a bizarre taste in clothing, but her determined optimism is what wins people over.  The fact that she and Tandy love each other and are essentially good people is what makes us viewers hope they do not get killed in the next episode.

Sophie Okonedo Tony nomination

Sophie Okonedo should win a well-deserved Tony Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible. She has been nominated for the 2016 Tony award, and in the opinion of East Coast Stories she should win. In 2014 Sophie Okonedo won a Tony for her role in A Raisin In The Sun.

Sophie Okonedo & Ben Whishaw in "The Crucible"

Sophie Okonedo & Ben Whishaw in “The Crucible”

The role of Elizabeth Proctor is physically and emotionally challenging. She is an innocent victim of the Salem Witch Trials. Her only fault is that she is too good-hearted to comprehend the evil and cruelty which exists in the World.

The entire witch hysteria was started by Abigail Williams (perfectly played by Saoirse Ronan). Abigail’s motivation was to have Elizabeth Proctor hanged as a witch so that Abigail could be with Elizabeth’s husband John . Elizabeth Proctor simply cannot believe that anyone could be that insensitive to another human being’s death  just to satisfy their own carnal lust.

Sophie Okanedo

Sophie Okanedo

In The Crucible Sophie Okanedo, as Elizabeth Proctor, has what seems to be a peaceful domestic scene where she is cooking a rabbit stew. She tells how the poor bunny just wandered into the house, unaware that it was about to become food. Of course, the rabbit is a metaphor for Elizabeth Proctor herself who is unaware of the danger she is in.

The Crucible has completed its Broadway run, so if you did not see it you missed a wonderful performance by one of the best casts ever assembled on the stage.

We wish Sophie Okanedo good look in winning the Tony award, and look for ward to seeing her next role.

Jackson and the Magic Bunny

Once Upon A Time, there was a little boy named Jackson with bright red hair. He lived deep in the King’s Forest in house that was built inside a huge oak  tree. His mother Joanna made potions for King Kronan, who lived far away in  Grey Stone Castle next to  The Lazy River.

Joanna and Jackson would walk through the forest gathering herbs and plants and honey for the magic potions Joanna made for the king. They were never afraid in the forest since the giant wolf Oakley always came with them.

Oakley the Good Wolf

Oakley the Good Wolf

Oakley was a good wolf but he was too jumpy  to be part of a pack. The other wolves had thrown Oakley out and told him he had to live with humans until he learned to calm down. So Oakley came to live with Jackson and Joanna. He loved being with them, but he never did learn to calm down. Whenever Joanna and Jackson walked  through the forest, Oakley would run full speed in through the forest, jumping and  wagging his tail.

Sunshine the magic bunny tries to wake up Jackson

Sunshine the magic
bunny tries to wake up Jackson

Now in the King’s Forest lived a Magic Bunny named Sunshine. He wanted so much to play with Jackson and Joanna and to taste all the good plants they were gathering. But Sunshine was afraid of being eaten by the Wolf Oakley, so he stayed hidden under bushes whenever Joanna and Jackson and Oakley would pass by.

Although Joanna made potions for the King, she almost never went to the castle. She would mix up her potions in the big oak house and then wrap them in a small leather bag. Joanna would tie the bag to Oakley and the wolf would run full speed all the way to  Grey Stone Castle to deliver the potions to the king. Oakley  loved running to the castle, but even with his great speed, it would take him one day to get there and another full day to get back.

So Jackson, Joanna and Oakley lived happily in the King’s forest until one day something terrible happened.  A witch had poisoned good King King Kronan and it looked as if he might die. Soldiers came to Joanna’s oak house in the forest and told her that she was the only one with the knowledge to save the king.

Joanna did not want to leave Jackson, but the soldiers promised they would guard the house and take care of him. So Joanna packed her bag of potions and rode off on the back of the giant Wolf Oakley to rush to the castle to save the king.

The evil witch places a sleep spell on the oak tree house

The evil witch places a sleep spell on the oak tree house

But the evil witch was hiding outside the oak tree house and she put a sleeping spell on everyone inside.  The King’s soldiers and Jackson fell into a deep sleep. The witch cackled as she lit the tree on fire.

Jackson Escapes in his Fire-proof suit

Jackson Escapes in his Fire-proof suit

The only one who saw this was Sunshine the Magic Bunny. Sunshine is magic since he can jump higher than any other bunny in the world.

Sunshine jumped over the witch and all the way in through the second story window of the oak tree house. Then he tugged and jumped on Jackson and the soldiers until they woke up. Sunshine got Jackson into a fire-proof  suit and rushed him outside.

Barry the one-antler deer watches Jackson and the magic Bunny Escape

Barry the one-antler deer watches Jackson and the magic Bunny Escape

The soldiers piled snow on the fire to put it out, but they did not know that  that the fire had been caused by a witch. Only Sunshine had seen that.  The witch came out of the forest to try and capture Jackson, but Sunshine saw her and jumped all the way up to her head and bit her ugly nose.  Then, out of the woods came  Barry, the one-antler deer who  was a friend of Sunshine the Magic Bunny . Barry saw what was happening and charged to stab the witch with his one antler.

Like all good stories this one has a happy ending.

Joanna saved the king from poison and rode home on the giant  wolf Oakley. Joanna was very upset and cried when she found out what had happened. Then she cried more when she found out that Jackson was fine.

Sunshine the magic bunny now lives inside with Joanna and Jackson. The evil witch ran off into the forest. Oakley was accepted back into the wolf pack and every day they search all through the King’s Forest to try to find and eat the evil witch.

Each night dinner time, Sunshine, Joanna and Jackson eat together at the dinner table. Then Jackson lies down on the couch and falls asleep while petting the soft soft fur on Sunshine the Magic Bunny.

 

 

Somebody Up There Hates You

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon is a teenage love story set in a a hospice. It sounds like it would be depressing, but instead it is funny and touching and well written, without ever becoming sappy or melodramatic.

Somebody Up There Hates you

Somebody Up There Hates you

Richard is a 17 year-old boy dying of cancer in a hospice where everyone else is ancient, except for a lovely 15 year old girl named Sylvie, who also has cancer. As the only two teenagers in the place, they naturally gravitate towards each other and get into as much trouble as their frail bodies will allow.

You don’t get put into a hospice unless you have less than a month to live, so don’t expect the story to have a magic happy ending. However, it does show that even in the final days, no matter what their age, people are still alive. Somebody Up There Hates You does not use any cliche stock characters. All of the patients and staff in the hospice are portrayed  as real people with the mixture of flaws, meanness, courage and fear that all of us have.

The title Somebody Up There Hates You Comes from a joke Richie likes to tell. It is obvious that he was a bit of a wise-ass kid even before he got cancer. He hates the way various Priests and Ministers are always barging into his room and trying to talk to him about God. After all, it is somewhat difficult to believe in a kind and loving Supreme Entity when you are a 17 year old who has known nothing but pain for most of your life.

Hollis Seamon

Hollis Seamon

Sylvie is a frail and dying girl who just a few years earlier was the most beautiful girl in school. She and Richie spend whatever time they can together playing pranks on the staff and having a very Romeo and Juliet type of relationship. You see Sylvie’s father wants her to have nothing to do with the cancer boy, and keeps thinking that somehow she will actually get better.

One of the most moving episodes in the book comes on Halloween when Richie’s wild uncle Phil comes to visit. Phil sneaks Richie out of the hospice and for a few hours Richie can actually pretend to be “normal”. Richie is in a wheelchair, has a blanket wrapped around himself and has a shaved head, but on Halloween night people just assume it is a costume. Richie is able to watch kids play and store owners give out candy, without anyone staring at him, or worse- avoiding looking at him.

A few days later crazy Uncle Phil sends Richie drawings of the people in the hospice. They are beautiful drawings in which Phil has portrayed the people as the should be instead of as they are in the hospice. The two old men dying down the hall, are shown as young and strong watching a football game together. Richie is portrayed as a King. Sylvie is shown as a beautiful young mother. It is a life she will never have except in the picture.

This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. Hollis Seamon herself has spent countless hours in hospitals caring for her own sick young son. Her real life experiences come through in the beauty and vitality of her writing.

A hospice is one of those places most of us simply pretend is not there. We ignore its presence and pray to God that we never have to go to one or visit anyone there. Somebody Up There Hates You shows us that beauty and love can still grow even on the most barren of soil. I am glad Hollis Seamon gave us a glimpse of what happens  behind the close doors of the hospice.

 

 

All Hail Leicester City and Elvis Presley

Whether or not you follow European Football (soccer), you should be happy that Leicester City has just won the Premier League Championship. According to Euronews, before the season began, the  British bookies posted the odds of Leicester City becoming champs at 5,000 to 1.

leic 4

Put another way; the odds makers said there was a better chance of Elvis Presley being found alive than there was of Leicester City becoming champion.

So the next time someone tells you it is a 5000 to 1 shot that you will land that dream job, or start your own company, or publish a novel or marry the love of your life, do not get discouraged.

Leic 3

It does not matter what the odds-makers say. The only thing that matters is what You Do.

leic 8Don’t you agree Elvis?

Never Say “Whatever It Takes”

“Whatever It Takesare the 3 most dangerous words any business leader can utter, and yet you hear the phrase all the time. The problem is that the leaders think they are saying one thing, but the rank and file employees hear something else entirely.

Whatever 1

When the boss says Whatever It Takes the employees hear “Nothing Else Matters” . Employees think they are being told to ignore any rules that will interfere with the target the boss has set. If you tell employees that they must hit a particular target like Sales or Profit or Production Units you are also threatening them that bad things will happen to them personally if that target is not met.

People do respond dramatically to the phrase “Whatever It Takes” . They do everything to hit the goal. They ignore safety rules. They ship product that has not passed quality inspection. The give credit lines to customers who will never be able to pay for the goods. They  circumvent government regulations. They over-ship customers.

Sometimes, despite all these shortcuts, employees still find that they have not reached the target the boss has set. Afraid of losing their jobs, people take the final step to meet the target.

They change the numbers.

When all else fails people will report what the bosses want to hear even if it is not true. They report sales were higher than they actually were. They stop reporting accidents or quality problems. They don’t write off bad debts. They falsify government reports. The employees don’t think of themselves as cheating. They think of themselves as doing “Whatever It Takes”.

They next time you see in the news that the government is investigating a company, or that there has been a major industrial accident, or that a firm’s stock suddenly plummets because its figures cannot  be trusted; you can be sure of one thing. Somewhere in the recent past a high level executive gave a rousing speech to the employees demanding that they all do “Whatever It Takes”.

Tina Benko

Tina Benko is an exciting and versatile actress with an incredible  dramatic range.  She has appeared recently as 3 completely different character-types and was excellent in all of them.

Tina Benko 1 (3000px)Tina Benko was Ann Putnam in The Crucible at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater. She was excellent as the semi hysterical housewife; totally convinced that her many miscarriages were  the result of witchcraft. She is willing to accuse the midwife, knowing full well that a conviction for witchcraft means death.

In a more modern role she was in The Starz Network’s Flesh and Bone as the beautiful former ballerina Jessica who is embezzling funds from the ballet company to support a Manhattan lifestyle well beyond her means.  This leads her into making a deal with the devil, in the form of a Russian mobster. Despite being petrified of her new arrangement, Jessica maintains the facade of poise and elegance that is a ballerina’s trademark.

In Showtime’s Brotherhood she is the slutty girlfriend of gangster Michael Caffee (excellently played by Jason Isaacs). Complete with skintight outfits and a low class Rhode Island accent, this character is the polar opposite of the ice cold, upper class,  ex-ballerina she plays on Flesh and Bone.

With her striking blue eyes and superb acting skills, the audience is immediately drawn to Tina Benko whenever she is on Stage of Screen. She is also a very hard working actor with a huge resume of films, T.V. Shows and movies.  We look forward to seeing even more of her work in the future.

 

 

The Seventh Seal movie review

Playing a game of chess against Death comes from the 1957 Igmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal. It is one of the most famous movie scenes of all time, and has been spoofed in hundreds of skits and shows, from Monty Python to Family Guy.

Max von Sydow plays chess against Death (Bengt Ekerot)

Max von Sydow plays chess against Death (Bengt Ekerot)

However, most people have never actually seen The Seventh Seal. Most likely the fact that it is in black and white, and  the actors are speaking Swedish discourages people from giving it a look. That is a shame, since The Seventh Seal is a beautiful movie that still holds up to this day.

Gunnel Linsblom & Gunnar Bjornstand

Gunnel Linsblom & Gunnar Bjornstand

The Seventh Seal takes place in the Middle Ages, and Max von Sydow plays a knight who has returned home after 10 years fighting in the crusades. He finds his country very changed. The Plague is savaging the countryside and people are dying by the thousands. Many of the people have turned violent, blaming witches or each other for the Plague. Religion instead of being a comfort, has become just one more way to frighten the simple people.

Maud Mansson being burned as a witch

Maud Mansson being burned as a witch

Death comes for the knight, but the knight is still trying to struggle with the most basic questions of life. The knight makes a deal with Death. If the knight can beat Death at a game of chess then the knight  can continue to live.

The knight does not want to stay alive just to enjoy pleasures. He has a deeper quest. He does not want to die yet since he is still seeking the answers to the basic questions of Life. What does it all mean? Is there a God? What comes after Death?

The story of The Seventh Seal is not really about the chess match with Death. The game takes many days, and the real plot is about what the adventures the knight has when he is not playing chess. As they travel, the knight and his squire meet priests, peasants, thieves, soldiers, actors and even a witch. All have completely different views on the meaning of life and death.

Max von Sydow & Bibi Andersson

Max von Sydow & Bibi Andersson

Do not expect the film to give you the Ultimate Answer. It does not try to force any point of view. Perhaps the most moving scene is when the knight meets a young mother and she shares a bowel of fresh strawberries with him.Such kindness and peace are in stark contrast to the evils the knight has seen elsewhere.

Sitting on the grass in the bright sunshine, the knight realizes that despite all its misery and pain, there are these wonderful times when Life can be quite beautiful.