This weekend at Maryville College, let ‘Freedom!’ ring
Is there a single man in Blount County who will be attending the Smoky Mountain Highland Games this weekend who hasn’t seen the film “Braveheart?”
If so, I’d like to meet him. Because that dude, whomever he may be, is in need of some serious cinematic education.
I can’t help it: Every year around this time, as I speak to various Highland Games athletes and organizers and performers, I start to hear bagpipes in my head. I could chalk it up to my lineage, which does indeed come from the British Isles, but as far as I can tell, the Wildsmiths were English. Which means we probably met the business end of Scottish blades and arrows, much to my chagrin.
No, more than likely whatever primal connection I feel to the sounds of the Old World is probably born of out of repeated viewings of that Mel Gibson classic. Released in 1995, it was one of the most successful films of that decade: Made for $72 million, it grossed more than three times that amount; nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won five, including Best Picture and Best Director.
And it spurred an interest in all things Scottish. Before “Braveheart,” Scottish culture had become something of a caricature, typified by the buffoonery of Groundskeeper Willie on “The Simpsons” and the comedy bits of Mike Myers on “Saturday Night Live.” Scotsmen were often portrayed as brawny, brutish, quick-tempered men, and while that may indeed be true, “Braveheart” showed the world another side: A proud, agrarian people committed to family, repressed by the English, and willing to die for the cause of liberty.
As Americans, we can get behind that. Freedom is the cornerstone of American democracy, and having shrugged off the yolk of British oppression ourselves, we know full well how much sweet the taste of victory is.
The film also showcased something most people with a passing familiarity with Scottish culture have long name: You don’t want to mess with a Scotsman. Burly, bearded, brutish they may be — fighting and drinking and laughing at pain in order to cope, the characters in “Braveheart” didn’t quit when beaten and didn’t give up when injured. A closed fist was as good a greeting as a hug, and whether or not that’s an accurate depiction, it’s a masculine enough portrayal that most American men developed a grudging respect for Scotsmen, even if it is based on a fictional film.
There are other films out there that stir the testosterone of guys — “Every Which Way But Loose,” along with a half-dozen other Clint Eastwood films; any movie with Bruce Lee; most flicks written and directed by Quentin Tarantino — but few achieve the same cinematic majesty of “Braveheart.”
From the fog-shrouded hills of the Highlands to the rain-soaked moors, the land itself is an uncredited character — we see such harsh and unforgiving terrain, and it both reminds us of our East Tennessee hills and adds to the respect we feel for those who built lives there in a time before modern technology. It has love and tenderness — William Wallace’s enduring affection for his dead wife is a romantic notion even dudes can appreciate — and it’s emotionally resonant: When Wallace is tortured in the excruciating end-of-film scenes, his intestines pulled out off-camera, and he shouts “FREEEEDOM” as his life ebbs away, even the stoutest hearts among us feel a tear in the corners of our eyes.
And when Scottish warriors line up on a field of battle across from larger numbers of better-equipped English troops, we can’t help but cheer. We root for the underdog anyway, and when William Wallace, his face smeared in blue paint as a nod to the Scottish Picts who faced off against the Romans, gives his speech about how “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” ... well, I’m probably not the only guy who wants to stand up, grab a piece of pipe and throw myself into the film to join the cause.
Maybe it’s the primal nature of the Scots in “Braveheart” that appeals to us. Maybe its a bestial sort of bloodlust let loose on film that’s long been civilized out of all but the darkest recesses of our brains. Maybe it’s the nobility of fighting for something more dear and precious than a paycheck to pay for cars we don’t need and houses too big for our families.
I suspect it’s all of the above. That, and that it’s just a damn good film.
This weekend, take advantage of the best opportunity you’ll have to experience “Braveheart” in real life. Take an afternoon and head over to the Smoky Mountain Highland Games at Maryville College. Marvel at the athletes, sample the fare, peruse the vendors of weaponry and Scottish garb. Allow the sounds of the bagpipes and the drums to stir your soul in a way that hasn’t been matched since the climax of one of the greatest guy films of all time.
Take part in tradition. You’ll be glad you did. It’s a unique weekend on Blount County’s cultural calendar, and it’s more exotic than anything else you’ll experience around these parts all year. Read on for further details, and count yourself fortunate that for once, you can soak up the history, feel and flavor of Scotland in real life as opposed to watching it on a screen.
“Freedom,” boys. It’s a beautiful thing. Get some this weekend.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.