TROY: The Movie
By John M. Ford
Originally published in Weird Tales, Spring 1994
The wind still blows from Hisarlik
Shaking the great white sign, four letters
In painted plywooden proclamation
That this is the City of Dreams:
The Place of the Epic, Where Heroes Lived
And sometimes Died. If you will cut
As Schliemann cut, guided by the tale,
Through the hill, the cities,
Ordering the setups and scenes into continuity,
What runs through the many-gated light
Of the fabulous Moviola
Will be not Homer not Virgil not Truth
But in its own way real
As anything in the darkness:
Popcorn and figs in the lobby,
Ladies remove your hats,
The lights go down—
* * *
You know from the first Cinemascope frame
An endless expanse of Monument Valley
Elmer Bernstein score thundering, soaring,
That Achilles and Hector cannot both walk into the sunset alive;
The whole 70mm screen isn’t big enough for the two of them.
It’s over a woman. It’s over range rights.
It’s tons of gold in a fortress beyond the border.
It’s about men burnt hard in civil wars
Banded together for whatever it is a man’s gotta do
Or what he’s afraid of not doing—
They shoulda been saddle pals, you know that,
But the gold of Troy and the face of Helen do funny things.
And even then Hector, the best bronco-buster
Man or god ever saw, mighta shoulda said
“She ain’t rightly yours, Paris, give her back,”
But along comes Patroclus the Kid
All dressed up in his pal Achilles’ fancy suit,
Callin’ Hector out:
The Kid’s fast, but we all know Hector’s faster,
Bang you’re dead.
Nothing will do then. Achilles howls
Like a wild coyote at the sky
And the Destiny Makers send him down a gunbelt
Cut from the hides of Apollo’s oxen,
Hanging a pure white silver Hephaestus .45.
He straps on the gun
And the lucky spurs his ma gave him
(One of ’em busted back at Chancellorsville)
For the last walkdown under the Trojan walls.
Hector goes out game, but he sees the loco glint
Off Achilles’ eye and sixgun and like any sane varmint
Aims for gettin’ the Hell out of Dodge;
But then he stops. He won’t die yellow,
Maybe, or maybe there’s a mirage in Apollo’s sun,
Or the ole Injun hoodoo’s on him. Whatever,
He stops and he turns and the two of ’em draw down.
The screen, the music, spin.
Last roundup, Hector breaker of horses.
Achilles ain’t done. Two more shots,
So the dead warrior’s spirit
Will wander between the winds forever.
Priam’s turn to howl.
The fastest gun alive blows smoke off the muzzle,
Whistles up his horses,
Turns and shows that busted spur.
We now take leave of the Western
Electric Noiseless Recording System
For tinted orthochrome black and white,
Rupert Julian at the mighty Wurlitzer,
THE GREEKS AND TROJANS DECIDE
PARIS SHOULD FIGHT MENELAUS
FOR HELEN’S HAND
(AND THE REST OF HER)
Cut to Helen’s bedroom, where
Priam’s son, in crested helm
And baggy boxers, looks for a hiding place.
NOBODY ASKED PARIS . . .
He tries on one of Helen’s gowns
Comes up a bit thin, but
All the fruit in the bowl is different sizes.
Two big lugs pound pound on the muslin door:
“TIME TO SEE MENELAUS AND DIE!”
Paris frantic holds his head, notices the helmet,
Chucks it out the window.
It crowns a passing Trojan delivery boy
(Hornrims, toga, hightop sneakers)
Before he half knows what to do
The big guys grab the schlep and hustle him off.
Music higher tootlier now.
The little guy gets armed, sort of, everything’s too big,
The spear (he turns and bops two people)
The breastplate, the sandals (he bunches his socks)
The greaves, the belt (pants around ankles)
He scratches his head over the brazen jockstrap.
Then in a flash and puff of smoke there’s a lady present:
GODDESS OF LOVE
(IT’S ALL HER FAULT)
The helmet’s over the little guy’s head
So she thinks he’s Paris
(Hey it’s comedy)
She tells him the fix is in
(The motion for the Trojan’s
From the goddess with the bodice,
The Greek who’s got the grief
Is in the stew from the blue,
As they’ll say in the talkie remake)
Big hug. Smackeroo. Vanish. Thud.
Field of battle: Menelaus is big as a Mack
Sennett truck, black beard, black mustache, black derby hat.
Hector and Odysseus, in striped shirts, whistles, caps,
Toss for first spear
IT’S IN HOMER, FOLKS
Paris (our boy, that is) wins the flip. Spear’s
Bigger than he is, but he gives it the old college try
(Music: Freddie the Freshman)
And Aphrodite transparently double exposed
(No pun really) helps the thing along whizzbang.
Menelaus catches it, picks his teeth. His throw
Punches through Paris’ toga between his kneecaps
Trojan ladies faint away thump thump thump leaving
The real Paris standing there in drag
The little guy steps clear, tidying his skirt.
The goddess points an invisible finger
Closeup: bolts on big M’s sword untwist:
He draws. Clunk.
Big man chases little man all over the map
Undercranked, sped up, always good for a laugh
They grapple, Menelaus twists Paris’ helmet round and round
Till poink it comes off empty
Pan down: our hapless hatless hero grins and shrugs.
More charley chase until the second reel’s nearly gone
The schlep’s cornered, Mooselaus closing in
Organist plays train whistles and we crosscut
Little guy big guy
Little guy big guy
Little guy BIG GUY
Mount Olympus, the Gods at Home
(Zeus zapping dartboard, Poseidon walking fish,
Hebe shaking martinis)
Mrs. Hera Cleaver leans out the door:
“APHRO-DI-TEE! DINNER’S READY!”
Love goddess grabs erstwhile love object by scruff
Zoooooom into sky
Menelaus knocks down cardboard wall, staggers off hat over eyes.
The real Paris (still dressed to kill)
Gets yanked out of frame:
THERE’S HELEN TO PAY . . .
Back on Olympus, the shrimp is in Love’s lap literally:
A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN . . .
Our hero pulls down a cloud like a shade;
* * *
The lights on the city walls cast rippling pools of light
That hide more than they show.
Down these mean streets walks Ajax,
Stronger than anyone,
A man who doesn’t seem to care whether
Gods or heroes or anydamnbody’s on his side;
Has he got a side, the dumb ox, the moose
Unalloyed, the Front-de-Boeuf among knights,
Deaf to the laughter of Greek and Trojan both?
You load him up,
Point him at the Trojans, and he kills, Iron Mike
Hammering the many-gated city.
Just now as there is no one to kill
As there is never anyone to talk to
Ajax stands in the Trojan torchlight, feeling the Trojan wind.
He knows the Hisarlik wind is a crazy wind;
It blows the dust of ages past the tired walls
To scour the shining helmets of dead heroes
And when men listen to it for too long
They hear gods talking.
Where are the gods now? Ajax doesn’t hear them.
The day he did has gone. Zeus the old lecher
Is boss of bosses now, practically half legit;
White-robed, nobody touches him now.
Apollo owns a theatre where the performers use the rear door.
Athena drives by with the dark windows rolled up tight.
Aphrodite? She dresses nicer than she did.
The little heroes tossed around below by the crazy wind
Still do the Destiny Makers’ fighting,
Take the long fall for them like always,
Suckered by the crazy wind’s promise of the Olympian move,
The shot at making their own destiny.
It’s all lies, Ajax knows, but he stays under the walls,
It’s all lies but he takes the punches,
It’s all lies but he defends the hollow ships.
In his tent, the light from Troy flickering on, off, on, off,
He holds the weapon a dead hero gave him
And plots the insoluble mystery.
COMING SOON TO THIS THEATRE:
From the producers of Quo Vadis, Quo Vadis We Vadis II,
And The Son of Hercules vs. Some Pro Wrestlers,
Gimme Tax Shelter Films presents
All Roads Lead to Rome. . . .
Starring a Large Number of Extremely
Pulchritudinous Italian Ladies
And Some Guy from a TV Show
ALSO AVAILABLE AT THE REFRESHMENT COUNTER:
The Odyssey* Soundtrack Album
*Not to be confused with that Stanley Kubrick movie with all the boring classical stuff on the soundtrack.
Featuring the hit singles
“Sirens on the Rocks”
“Nobody Calypsos Like Calypso Do”
“Well, Telemachus (What Did You Do in the War, Dad?)”
“Ways of Knowing Each Other” (Love Theme from The Odyssey)
Available on LP, Cassette, and CD (CD contains two bonus tracks we didn’t
really use in the movie)
NOW BACK TO OUR FEATURE
BUT FIRST A NEWSREEL
SO YOU HAVE TIME TO BUY SOME MORE
Black and white a little longer,
And documentarily grainy:
When the cinema wants to be real it shakes the camera.
Cassandra ties a scarf around her head
Picks up a rush broom, goes to sweep
Streets clear of the bits of topless towers.
A tramcar rattles by, a little car two-ended
As her memory. She knew in 1938
When her relative — uncle? said
“See who I have brought home with me,
See with whom I have divided mine own,”
And now they are sealed within the city,
Shaken by the Achaian guns that chew the stones
As those within chew books for their binding glue
Eating the paper words are written upon.
Once in each year, when Persephone
Tosses in uneasy bliss, and her mother
Withdraws softness and color from the world, then the chariots
Walk on water, and the morsels that make more war possible
Trickle in from the uncles far away, the desolation
Wrought by an abduction easing the desolation
Likewise made. War they say is like that.
For Cassandra life is like that;
The inevitable bending its back to bite itself.
She is not beautiful, Priam’s fairest. We know that
Historical beauty was invented by von Sternberg;
Only Helen and Dietrich will be spared this curse.
Cassandra knows her own death like her own body
And she knows too the last joke of all, that in 1951
The studio will recut all extant prints
To defocus Trojan heroism
And escape the wrath of the committees.
Her fragments will lie waiting for a Schliemann of the negatives.
This is the destiny made for her:
The endless tramride between life and the grave.
* * *
Odysseus shoves the clip home in his Walther PPK
Diomedes his companion opens Channel D
Which being heroes they naturally accept
Is to enter Troy itself and steal
The only operational prototype
Intermediate range solid state laser guided Pallas Module
Latest in the McGuffin series.
The Achaian agents’ last operation,
The Arrows of Hercules Affair,
(You remember the great aerial stuntwork over Lemnos)
Was a cakewalk compared to this.
They are dressed in leather and Kevlar and the teeth of boars
And armed with the weapons of terror:
The silenced bow, the jet greaves,
The bronze sword of innumerable deadly functions.
The Destiny Makers themselves have sent a heron
(High Efficiency Reconnaissance Observation Node)
As spotter and close air support.
The agents disappear into the ethical darkness.
The Other Side plays the game as well, of course
Though not so well; Dolon of the Committee for Trojan Security
Is out there too. His bad luck.
Diomedes puts a quiet round past his head, phunt,
While Odysseus, master of deception, dons a latex mask
And asks the telling questions. Poor Dolon,
He’s the patsy; you know what happens to him.
The Achaians pierce the enemy stronghold and raise Hades,
Dispose of countless Thracian extras
And Rhesos the criminal mastermind
In a fury of explosions, collapsing sets, and wise-cracks,
Escaping at last in Rhesos’ personal armed super-chariot.
Congratulations from M
-enelaus. A thought for Moneypen
-elope back home. The war is far from over, though;
-dysseus will return in
From Calypso with Love.
* * *
A pre-title map of Troy city and nation
Dissolves through some splendid high-tech animation
Into a crane shot of the swell population
Cue overture, Dolby with full orchestration
Now swoop on Troy’s walls, and its grand ocean view
So what it’s a model, they win Oscars too
Cue the lights and dancing waters,
Cue King Priam and his daughters
Gals in fishnets, guys in tailcoats
Shiny floors and woodwind wailnotes
Scored for jazz and fingersnap
Priam’s court knows how to tap
Hey King Priam
Give us a moment now
Hey King Priam
Lend us your ear
You may have noticed Menelaus
Has an army here to slay us
And we think it’s time your Paris
Reconsidered his dear
Now we need young lovers, a pair is what’s expected
He’s Troilus and she’s Cressida, the scenarist’s directed
No one in any major market will have read the play
And some young comic Pandarus can walk his scenes away
The kids are shot through colored filters indicating joy
Song video in embryo, the Lovers’ Theme from Troy:
This didn’t begin as something exceptional
Sometimes it’s hard to see
The castle for all the stone
We just walked into something exceptional
No way that one could be
This wonderful all alone
The complications complicate, as complications do
As Boy Meets Girl and Loses Her while there’s a war on too;
Enough of that. To raise suspense we redirect the action;
A song with both contesting sides would be a cute distraction.
Now Trojans largely stay in Troy, the Greeks down on the seaside,
But movies can do anything. Besides, we need a B-side.
So Priam, Paris, Agamemnon, Menelaus jilted
In parallel sing barbershop (we use a split screen, tilted)
About how fickle femalefolk have bollixed up their lives,
A light mysogynistic tune, we call it simply “Wives.”
But to return to real romance (before we all get lynched)
We turn to bold Odysseus, whose love is firmly clinched
He wants to see his lady wife, who’s leagues and leagues away,
He’s in good with Athena, though, so simply has to pray
And Pallas on Olympus, smartest goddess of ’em all
Is switchboard operator for a telepathic call:
Odysseus: Hello Olympus, hello Athena
Won’t you put me through to where the grass grows greener
Hello Penelope, wish I was gonna be home
Penelope: Yes, this is Ithaca, surely we’ll take it
We’ve got a connection and we sure won’t break it
Hello Odysseus, miss you so much you don’t know
We now turn our attentions to Achilles, mighty man
Who’s got a little grievance that’s about to hit the fan
He had a gal, Briseis, he was given as a gift
But Agamemnon swiped her, and is bold Achilles miffed
He figures if the other heroes feel that way about him
Then they can simply go ahead and win the war without him
He steps out of the action with a dancing girl or three
(Briseis gets some really stormin’ choreography)
I’m mad (he’s mad)
Does it matter at who
So mad (he’s mad)
Tell you just what I’ll do
I’ll take off my armor, this bronze-plated bulk
I’ll put up my sword and I’ll sit here and sulk
I’m mad (he’s mad)
So I hardly can speak
So mad (you bet)
Gonna quit bein’ Greek
My momma’s a sea nymph, my buddies are gods
I think all you heroes are stinky old sods
You wanna fight Trojans, I’ll even the odds
‘Cause Achilles is just plain mad
(Ain’t gonna take it)
Achilles is just plain mad
Let’s quickly return to the plot we left floating,
To Troilus and Cressida, lovers emoting,
(You haven’t forgotten them? Okay, just checking)
They’re up on a tower, PG-rated necking
And just when you’re sick of their starcrossed affection
The enemy fleet scoots the seaward direction
The ships silhouette as the sun is declinin’
Leaving only this horse and a fella named Sinon
A silvertongued Greek
And an absolute sneak
Who lies into sometime the end of next week
Laocoon sneers, says the horse is a fake
Exits left (just pursued, keep it light) by a snake
So they bring the horse in. Cue the fog and the dark
A trap door goes slam, armored guys disembark
Ranks of bronze and black and blue
What is a soldier boy to do
Pull up your greaves and run some Trojan through
Ranks of bronze and aches and pains
Here for a soldier’s ill-got gains
Pull down your helmet, bash some Trojan’s brains
And they set Troy alight and they bust the gates in
All in grand Technicolor like Gone With the Wind
We bring Troi-boy and Whatsername back to reprise
We’ve got the whole audience down on their knees
They’ll weep and wring hands till their popcorn goes soggy
When here comes Odysseus armed to the noggy
And just when you think that true love’s on the skids
Odysseus smiles and says, “That way out, kids.”
Troilus gulps and grabs Cressida. They’re both home free
(Telepathic approval from Penelope)
Comes another bold Greek in his burnished bronze suit
It’s Diomedes, arms full of vittles and loot:
“Hey Odysseus! What are you standing there for?”
He replies, “I’m just watching the end of the war. . . .”
The camera cranes up. Fires in darkness diminish,
The music crescendos. We got a sock finish.
Fade to black. Credits roll. House lights up. Play the theme.
Hey, it’s only a movie. A celluloid dream.
* * *
The wind still blows from Hisarlik
Down through and over the stones of the Troys of the tales;
Fluttering the pages of the mind,
Flickering in the strong white beam of the eye,
Rustling the draperies of the great movie palace of the heart
The tales and Troy endure
As long as there is film to show the light
And corn to pop in the lobby.
SHADOWS ON THE ROAD
by Robert E. Howard
Originally published in Weird Tales, May 1930
Nial of Ulster, welcome home!
What saw you on the road to Rome?—
Legions thronging the fertile plains?
Shouting hordes of the country folks
With the harvest heaped in their groaning wains?
Shepherd piping under the oak?
Laurel chaplet and purple cloak?
Smokes of the feasting coiled on high?
Meadows and fields of the rich, ripe green
Lazing under a cobalt sky?
Brown little villages sleeping between?
What saw you on the road to Rome?
“Crimson tracks in the blackened loam,
“Skeleton trees and a blasted plain,
“A heap of skulls and a child insane,
“Ruin and wreck and the reek of pain
“On the wrack of the road to Rome.”
Nial, what saw you in Rome?—
Purple emperors riding there,
Down aisles with walls like marble foam,
To the golden trumpet’s mystic flare?
Dark-eyed women who bind their hair,
As they bind men’s hearts, with a silver comb?
Spires that cleave through the crystal air,
Arch and altar and amaranth stair?
Nial, what saw you in Rome?
“Broken shrines in the sobbing gloam,
“Bare feet spurning the marble flags,
“Towers fallen and walls digged up,
“A woman in chains and filthy rags.
“Goths in the Forum howled to sup,
“With an emperor’s skull for a drinking-cup.
“The black arch clave to the broken dome.
“The Coliseum invites the bat.
“The Vandal sits where the Caesars sat;
“And the shadows are black on Rome.”
Nial, Nial, now you are home,
Why do you mutter and lonely roam?
“My brain is sick and I know no rest;
“My heart is stone in my frozen breast,
“For the feathers fall from the eagle’s crest
“And the bright sea breaks in foam—
“Kings and kingdoms and empires fall,
“And the mist-black ruin covers them all,
“And the honey of life is a bitter gall
“Since I traveled the road to Rome.”
“Troy” originally appeared in Weird Tales, Spring 1994. Copyright © 2004 by Terminus Publishing Company, Inc.
“Shadows on the Road” originally appeared in Weird Tales, May 1930