Talking Pictures

Fallen Idol

By David Templeton

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This time out, he stands by as Caroline Casey–Washington D.C.’s renowned author/speaker/talk-show host and “Visionary Activist Astrologer”–makes her mark on the latest big-budget appropriation of pop-cultural iconography: The Mask of Zorro.

The excited and murmuring crowd begins to settle down, as a mask-wearing DJ from a local rock station rises to welcome us to this special advance-screening of The Mask of Zorro. Starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins, the film is being screened this evening to a few film critics and an audience of radio listeners, all of whom have won free tickets to tonight’s show.

“But first,” the DJ exclaims, “let me introduce you to the producer of The Mask of Zorro.” Before naming the producer’s name–Doug Claybourne–he reads a list of the guy’s previous films, Jack, Money Train, D2: The Mighty Ducks, Drop Zone, and The Serpent and the Rainbow being some of them.

“Ouch!” observes my guest, author and astrologer Caroline Casey. “Every single one of those was a dog!” Her critique–loud enough to be heard by those around us–incites a smiling flurry of concurring nods from the journalists to our left.

A few seconds later, the DJ asks Claybourne to stand up and say a few words. He does, revealing himself to be the large, bearded fellow who’s been sitting directly in front of Casey.

“I felt kind of bad about that,” Casey confesses after the movie. “But only until the movie started. As soon as Zorro’s great big ‘Z’ –that childhood icon of justice and playfulness–came on screen and then exploded into flames, I thought, ‘Oh no! This isn’t going to be my Zorro. Not with all this kapow! kapow! kapow! and rockets’ red blare and stuff. That’s not what Zorro is about.”

By the time the credits had rolled around, in fact, Casey was ready to say even more to the bearded man. As the words ‘The End’ burst onto the screen, she announced, loudly and clearly, “What a horrible, cynical, commercial piece of crap!”

“That felt pretty good,” Casey laughs merrily. ‘I mean, how often do we get the chance to tell some producers what we think of their movies? I was just so horrified with what they did to Zorro, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to rant a little.”

And Caroline Casey–as a growing number of spiritual seekers have come to appreciate–believes in taking the opportunities that the universe offers.

Her unique, decidedly political approach to the stars and planets–she calls it “Visionary Activist Astrology”–has found a fitting forum on the legendary progressive Pacifica Radio Network [her one-of-a-kind call-in show can be heard in the Bay Area on KPFA 94.1-FM, Thursday afternoons at 2]. The initial acclaim she won with her best-selling audiocassette series Inner and Outer Space (Sounds True, 1996) has reached new heights with the release of her new book Making the Gods Work for You: The Astrological Language of the Psyche. Unique, insightful, and surprisingly funny, the latter is a compassionate self-help book, a step-by-step political action guide, and a neo-pagan celebration of the wonder of nature, all rolled into one and disguised as a book about astrology.

A student of semiotics (the systems of symbols) and mythologies from around the world, Casey recognizes the human psyche’s need for icons and heroes, be they gods or animals or mortals … or Zorro, the masked protector of the poor and powerless.

“Growing up, I loved Zorro,” she reiterates. “He was a powerful icon of goodness. He was the trickster. He’s Uranus–the coyote, the trickster, the rascal, the court jester who always brings the tyrants down by revealing the truth. And he never killed anyone, or seldom did.”

Zorro, in the famous 1950s TV show, only killed only once or twice–and then with remorse so great he’d kneel and pray for the souls of the tragically departed. The new Zorro, as his very first act of derring-do, does in a soldier by lassoing the rifles of a firing squad and directing the blast at their leader. Within his first minute on screen, Zorro has killed–and seems pretty pleased with himself.

“There should be a special hell for people who rip off cultural images and distort them and trivialize them and take all the magic out of them, purely for commercial gain,” Casey says. “The abuse of magical totems, even unto the ‘Z’ of Zorro, is nothing less than spiritual harassment. ‘Z’ is a sufficient enough totem. Sure it represents a diminished form of the rascal God, but it was lovable and sufficient to get us through the ’50s and ’60s.”

She suddenly breaks into a laugh.

“Sorry,” she says. “I seem to have lost my sense of humor. I haven’t been this riled up since Clinton killed the needle-exchange bill.”

Casey becomes animated.

Brandishing an imaginary sword as we stand on the sidewalk, Casey becomes animated. “Now, the real Zorro,” she says, “would have turned on the evil makers of this movie, as being the oppressors of the people. He’d playfully reveal himself as the real Zorro, saying, ‘This movie … sucks!’ With a swish swish swish”–she draws a letter in the air–“he’d carve a giant ‘S’ on the front of the theater. He’d say, ‘And these people are … cynical!’ ” Swish swish swish–she makes a big ‘C’ for Cynical. “‘And this movie gets a great big … zero!’ “

Swish swish swish.

“It’s poignant,” she explains, putting away her weapon, “because it will be a long time before anyone touches the Zorro myth again, and it could have been beautifully and lovingly done.

“Ah well,” Casey sighs. “There are many other good stories to be told.”

Web extra to the July 30-Aug. 5, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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