Tag: cinema

Home Reading

Home Reading posted in Eleison Comments on October 20, 2012

When a while back these “Comments” advised readers to fortify their homes in case public bastions of the Faith might, due to the wickedness of the times, prove to be a thing of the past, a few readers wrote in to ask just how homes might be fortified. In fact various spiritual and material means of defending home and family have been suggested in previous numbers of the “Comments,” notably of course the Holy Rosary, but one fortification has gone unmentioned which I think I would try in place of television if I had a family to defend: reading aloud each night to the children selected chapters from Maria Valtorta’s Poem of the Man-God. And when we had reached the end of the five volumes in English, I imagine us starting again from the beginning, and so on, until all the children had left home!

Yet the Poem has many and eloquent enemies. It consists of episodes from the lives of Our Lord and Our Lady, from her immaculate conception through to her assumption into Heaven, as seen in visions received, believably from Heaven, during the Second World War in northern Italy by Maria Valtorta, an unmarried woman of mature age lying in a sick-bed, permanently crippled from an injury to her back inflicted several years earlier. Notes included in the Italian edition (running to over four thousand pages in ten volumes) show how afraid she was of being deceived by the Devil, and many people are not in fact convinced that the Poem truly came from God. Let us look at three main objections.

Firstly, the Poemwas put on the Church’s Index of forbidden books in the 1950’s, which was before Rome went neo-modernist in the 1960’s. The reason given for the condemnation was the romanticizing and sentimentalizing of the Gospel events. Secondly the Poem is accused of countless doctrinal errors. Thirdly Archbishop Lefebvre objected to the Poem that its giving so many physical details of Our Lord’s daily life makes him too material, and brings us too far down from the spiritual level of the four Gospels.

But firstly, how could the modernists have taken over Rome in the 1960’s, as they did, had they not already been well established within Rome in the 1950’s? The Poem, like the Gospels (e.g. Jn.XI, 35, etc.), is full of sentiment but always proportional to its object. The Poemis for any sane judge, in my opinion, neither sentimental nor romanticized. Secondly, the seeming doctrinal errors are not difficult to explain, one by one, as is done by a competent theologian in the notes to be found in the Italian edition of the Poem. And thirdly, with all due respect to Archbishop Lefebvre, I would argue that modern man needs the material detail for him to believe again in the reality of the Gospels. Has not too much “spirituality” kicked Our Lord upstairs, so to speak, while cinema and television have taken over modern man’s sense of reality on the ground floor? As Our Lord was true man and true God, so the Poem is at every moment both fully spiritual and fully material.

From non-electronic reading of the Poem in the home, I can imagine many benefits, besides the real live contact between parents reading and children listening. Children soak in from their surroundings like sponges soak in water. From the reading of chapters of the Poem selected according to the children’s age, I can imagine almost no end to how much they could learn about Our Lord and Our Lady. And the questions they would ask! And the answers that the parents would have to come up with! I do believe the Poem could greatly fortify a home.

Kyrie eleison.

American Shakespeare?

American Shakespeare? posted in Eleison Comments on March 17, 2012

A number of people will find it absurd to compare anybody involved in modern cinema with one of the greatest poets and dramatists of all time, but St. Patrick’s Day may be the right moment to commemorate a great son of Ireland, the American film-director John Ford (1895–1973), by pointing out a few similarities between his career and that of William Shakespeare (1564–1616). A John Ford may be as close as our poor modern age can get to producing a Shakespeare – let’s see:—

To begin with, both men were highly successful popular entertainers. Shakespeare set out to write not English Literature but scripts for the Globe Theatre company, always in need of new plays to put on stage. Between 1592 and his exile from the London stage less than 20 years later, he wrote some 35 plays of all kinds: history plays, comedies, tragedies, romances. They were all popular, because Shakespeare was so involved in the Globe Theatre and so close to its audience. As for John Ford, to satisfy the insatiable demand of the American film-going public for new films, between 1917 and 1970 he directed, with a company of actors appearing repeatedly, over 140 films, which mix, like Shakespeare, comic and serious, high life and low life. Many of these films were great box-office hits, because Ford like Shakespeare knew his public.

Both men were highly successful because they were story-tellers, stories being the heart of popular entertainment. Both men grip their audiences and hold them in suspense – what happens next? And as story-tellers can have considerable influence, so both men helped to mould their nations’ character. By his history plays acting as propaganda for the recently established Tudor dynasty, Shakespeare has permanently influenced Englishmen’s view of themselves coming out of the Middle Ages. Ford likewise had a keen sense of American history (e.g. The Last Hurrah), and by creating the myth of the “Western” that fabricated America’s “Wild West,” he so defined the American national character as to have made people associate Americans with cowboys ever since.

Both men served a serious apprenticeship to their craft, Shakespeare on the boards of the Globe Theatre, Ford by spending several years as a cameraman before graduating to the direction of films. Shakespeare as a poet is an incomparable wordsmith, yet Ford’s poetry might be his camera work. Film directors without number have watched his films to learn how to use the camera because Ford had an eye for the detailed composition of his pictures in movement, or “movies.” When asked to name the film directors who most appealed to him, another famous film director, Orson Wells, replied, “I like the old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.” Yet another film-maker compared Ford’s films for the “simplicity and strength” of their style to middle-period Beethoven!

Finally both men were Catholics. The deepest drama of Shakespeare’s plays arises surely from his Catholic sense, necessarily disguised, of the tragedy of Merrie England’s irreversible slide into apostasy. John Ford was the tenth of eleven children of two immigrants to the United States, both born in Catholic Ireland. No doubt the Faith of his ancestors enabled him to commemorate the relative innocence and decency of yesterday’s America, with its womanly women, and its manly and upright heroes as typified in Ford’s films by John Wayne. A king of modern cinema may never make it to the Pantheon of all-time greats alongside a Shakespeare, but John Ford was that modern king.

Thank you, Ireland, and America. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to both of you!

Kyrie eleison.

Liberty vs. Nature

Liberty vs. Nature posted in Eleison Comments on May 17, 2008

Why is modern youth so goofy? The movies shown on long-haul airplane flights rarely promise to be anything but silly, but a movie from Catalonia recently made this ever hopeful 12-hour prisoner watch, and suggested an answer – liberty! The movie may have said more than it meant.

Here is the story. A young couple, unmarried but living together as is the way of “partners” today, are shown agreeing to part company if either of them ever feels like it. However, they love one another enough to hire together an apartment where she is happy to make with her man her first domestic nest. Alas, he has to be hospitalized with a grave liver problem, requiring a transplant for him to survive.

Visiting him regularly and caringly in the hospital, she offers him a part of her own liver. At last he accepts. The doctors find her compatible. The transplant is performed. Both recover from the operation. Joyfully he returns to the apartment to rejoin the girl who has saved his life, but he finds her . . . different! While he was in the hospital, a male colleague at her place of work took an interest in her, and she in turn found him attractive. So when the “partner” whom she saved rejoins her, she tells him that they may be bonded by his having in him a physical part of her, but he no longer has the best part of her, which is her heart! Weakly he comments, “What a pity!” But given their original agreement, what more was there to say?

The movie ends with her gently weeping in his arms, leaving open the possibility of a happy-ever-after ending, whereby he would regain her heart’s affections, etc, etc. However, it seems just as probable that she will “move on” (as they say today) to her new “partner.” In fact, to any bond created by her considerable sacrifice she even seems likely to prefer freedom for her feelings.

Now nothing in the movie remotely promotes the Catholic formula for such domestic happiness of man and woman as this “valley of tears” allows of, namely, a girl keeps her heart in reserve for the one man she will marry, marries him, and then never lets him go. But the movie does quite objectively suggest that that “liberty” which can cut off a girl’s deepest natural instincts of nest-making and self-sacrifice for her man, is not necessarily going to make her happy. Girls, if you are looking for happiness in this life, let alone for eternity, trust Mother Church.

Kyrie eleison.

The Cinema

The Cinema posted in Eleison Comments on July 21, 2007

The world is in terrible shape, on the brink of a Third World War which will be immeasurably more horrible than World Wars One or Two. How did the world get to this point? It is useful not to think that it is a shallow problem with a quick-fix solution, so here are a few thoughts on how a common feature of modern life, the cinema, can have contributed.

The following quotation is from Franz Kafka, the famous Czech writer of about 100 years ago, in the early days of films: “Cinema upsets the way we see things. The speeding up of movements and the rapid succession of images necessarily means that they escape our vision. It is no longer our eyes that take in the images, it is the images that take over our eyes. They overwhelm our consciousness. Cinema means putting a uniform over the eye which wore no such uniform before. The eye is the window of the soul, and films are like steel shutters over that window.”

What would Kafka have said about television? Let that pass. What he is saying here about the cinema is that it short-circuits the mind. The human being is composed of body and spiritual (non-bodily) soul. Accordingly man’s way of knowing is composed of bodily sensing and the spiritual mind’s thinking. So the human mind works – only works – from sensations, constantly reading within the sense-data the intelligible content inside them that it alone can read. Therefore any serious upsetting of men’s sensing is bound to upset the working of our minds. For instance, to flood our eyes (and since Kafka’s time, also our ears) with a too rapid succession of images and sounds will be to wash out our minds (Kafka says, “to overwhelm our consciousness”).

Too many films, too little thinking. Too little thinking, too little truth. Too little truth, too many lies, and through them a Third World War to enable the liars (as they hope) to take over the globe. It is we who have not wanted to think. We have only to take our medicine.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us.

Kyrie eleison.