Film, at its best, can convey a hint of the overwhelming impact of religious faith on those who believe. For me, the best example of this is Jesus of Nazareth (1977), as amply demonstrated I think in the video clip above. When we read about Jesus in the Gospels it requires a leap of imagination to conjure up the scenes depicted. Some people are better at doing this than others. A good film can provide us with the emotional impact of the Gospels without the necessity of our providing the imagination to bring the event alive for us. The Church has long understood this. Hymn singing can also accomplish this, as do Passion Plays, as does the Rosary. God appeals to our souls, our hearts and our minds, and we make a mistake if we ever forget this.
The History Channel in March will have a miniseries that dramatizes portions of the Bible. Below is a trailer.
”I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator.
Inscription on the Tombstone of Thaddeus Stevens
As regular readers of this blog know, I greatly enjoyed the film Lincoln and praised it for its overall historical accuracy. Go here to read my review. One of the many aspects of the film that I appreciated was Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens (R.Pa.), a radical Republican who rose from poverty to become the leader of the abolitionists in the House, and one of the most powerful men in the country from 1861 to his death in 1868. There haven’t been many screen portrayals of Stevens, but they illustrate how perceptions of Stevens have shifted based upon perceptions of Reconstruction and civil rights for blacks.
The above is an excellent video on the subject.
The 1915 film Birth of a Nation, has a barely concealed portrayal of Stevens under the name of Congressman Austin Stoneman, the white mentor of mulatto Silas Lynch, the villain of the film, who makes himself virtual dictator of South Carolina until he is toppled by heroic Klansmen. The film was in line with the Lost Cause mythology that portrayed Reconstruction as a tragic crime that imposed governments made up of ignorant blacks and scheming Yankee carpetbaggers upon the South. This was the predominant view of scholarly opinion at the time. The film was attacked by both the NAACP and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, as being untrue to history, a glorification of mob violence and racist.
By 1942 when the film Tennessee Johnson was made, we see a substantial shift in the portrayal of Stevens. Played by veteran actor Lionel Barrymore, best know today for his portrayal of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, Stevens is portrayed as a fanatic out to punish the South and fearful that the too lenient, in his view, treatment of the South in Reconstruction will lead to a new Civil War. This leads up to the climax of the film, the trial in the Senate of Johnson, with Stevens as the leader of the House delegation prosecuting Johnson, with Johnson staying in office by one vote. The portrayal of Stevens is not one-dimensional. Stevens is shown as basically a good, if curmudgeonly, man, consumed by fears of a new Civil War and wishing to help the newly emancipated slaves, albeit wrong in his desire to punish the South. Like Birth of a Nation, Tennessee Johnson reflected the scholarly consensus of the day which still painted Reconstruction in a negative light, although not as negative as in 1915. Additionally, the issue of contemporary civil rights for blacks was beginning to emerge outside of the black community as an issue, and Stevens in the film is not attacked on his insistence for civil rights for blacks. Continue reading
Well, on Saturday I went with my family to see Lincoln. Considering that the screenplay was written by Tony Kushner and the film directed by Steven Spielberg, I wasn’t expecting much. I wouldn’t have been totally surprised to see something along the lines of “Gay Illinois Lincoln and the Confederacy of Doom!’. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the film. It is a great film and perhaps a minor masterpiece. It is definitely one of the finest screen representations I have ever seen of Lincoln, and it is a worthy tribute to the Great Emancipator. Read below for the rest of my review, and the usual caveat regarding spoilers is in full force. Continue reading
to care for him who shall have borne the battle
During World War II director John Huston produced three films for the US government. Let There Be Light was shot for the Army Signal Corps. It covers the treatment of 75 US soldiers traumatized by their combat experiences in World War II. The film is narrated by Walter Huston, the academy award-winning actor father of John Huston. The Army brass did not like the finished product, thinking that its focus on men who suffered psychological damage from their service could be demoralizing to the troops, and banned the film on the grounds that it invaded the privacy of the soldiers featured in the film and that the releases they signed had been lost. (This reason was pretextual, but as a matter of law I would not place any reliance on a release signed by someone undergoing mental treatment standing up for an instant in court.) Continue reading
The Blu Ray and DVD releases of For Greater Glory are coming out on September 11, 2012. For Greater Glory tells the story of the Cristeros who bravely fought for religious freedom and the Church in the 1920s in Mexico. I heartily recommend this film. The above video is Father Robert Barron’s insightful review of the film. (I believe he is too sanguine as to the effectiveness of purely non-violent movements in the face of regimes who don’t care how many people they kill, but that is a debate for another day.) The below video has additional remarks by Father Barron on the film. Go here for my review of the film. Continue reading
One of my least favorite trial dramas is Twelve Angry Men (1957). As a defense attorney with thirty years experience I find it hilarious as Henry Fonda convinces his fellow jurors that the Defendant is not really guilty. Why do I find it hilarious? It is such a stacked deck! Just like a Socratic “Dialogue” the argument is tailored to make the case for the Defendant, and no contrary arguments are allowed to stand as Fonda steamrolls all opposition and saves the day for truth, justice and the American way! Or did he? Mike D’Angelo at AV Club has a brilliant analysis of why Fonda and his fellow jurors likely let a murderer off the hook:
Here’s what has to be true in order for The Kid to be innocent of the murder:
- He coincidentally yelled “I’m gonna kill you!” at his father a few hours before someone else killed him. How many times in your life have you screamed that at your own father? Is it a regular thing?
- The elderly man down the hall, as suggested by Juror No. 9 (Joseph Sweeney), didn’t actually see The Kid, but claimed he had, or perhaps convinced himself he had, out of a desire to feel important.
- The woman across the street saw only a blur without her glasses, yet positively identified The Kid, again, either deliberately lying or confabulating.
- The Kid really did go to the movies, but was so upset by the death of his father and his arrest that all memory of what he saw vanished from his head. (Let’s say you go see Magic Mike tomorrow, then come home to find a parent murdered. However traumatized you are, do you consider it credible that you would be able to offer no description whatsoever of the movie? Not even “male strippers”?)
- Somebody else killed The Kid’s father, for reasons completely unknown, but left behind no trace of his presence whatsoever.
- The actual murderer coincidentally used the same knife that The Kid owns.
- The Kid coincidentally happened to lose his knife within hours of his father being stabbed to death with an identical knife.
The last one alone convicts him, frankly. That’s a million-to-one shot, conservatively. In the movie, Fonda dramatically produces a duplicate switchblade that he’d bought in The Kid’s neighborhood (which, by the way, would get him disqualified if the judge learned about it, as jurors aren’t allowed to conduct their own private investigations during a trial), by way of demonstrating that it’s hardly unique. But come on. I don’t own a switchblade, but I do own a wallet, which I think I bought at Target or Ross or some similar chain—I’m sure there are thousands of other guys walking around with the same wallet. But the odds that one of those people will happen to kill my father are minute, to put it mildly. And the odds that I’ll also happen to lose my wallet the same day that a stranger leaves his own, identical wallet behind at the scene of my father’s murder (emptied of all identification, I guess, for this analogy to work; cut me some slack, you get the idea) are essentially zero. Coincidences that wild do happen—there’s a recorded case of two brothers who were killed a year apart on the same street, each at age 17, each while riding the same bike, each run over by the same cab driver, carrying the same passenger—but they don’t happen frequently enough for us to seriously consider them as exculpatory evidence. If something that insanely freakish implicates you, you’re just screwed, really. Continue reading
The reviews of the film had been dismal, but I felt duty bound to watch it, and give the film a review. On July 3, having closed my law office for the afternoon, my family and I went to the movies. While the rest of my family, not sharing my duty to report on the film, joined the folks seeing Spider-man III, I strolled over to see the Great Emancipator dispatch vampires. The viewing was rather like a private showing. The audience in the vast theater consisted of me and one individual in the back. I found this aspect of the film quite pleasant. Alas that is the first and last positive aspect of this film that I can report. Intrepid souls who wish to can follow me into the bowels of ALVH below, the usual spoiler caveat being in force. Continue reading
The hard working film mavens of Just Seen It give For Greater Glory an enthusiatic review in the video above. It is one of the more perceptive reviews of the film that I have seen. The two reviewers come at the film from a purely secular viewpoint and had little if any knowledge of the Cristero War prior to viewing it. The message of religious freedom that the film conveys is obviously the most important part of the film, but even leaving that aside the movie is a masterpiece of the filmmaker’s craft.
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air saw a rough cut of For Greater Glory back in March, so I was curious to read his review, and here it is:
For Greater Glory tells the story of the Mexican government’s attempt to stamp out the Catholic Church under President Calles (played by Ruben Blades), and the uprising that followed, a civil war that killed 90,000 people. Calles attempted to enforce the anti-clerical laws put into Mexico’s 1917 socialist Constitution by demanding the expulsion of foreign priests, banning public demonstrations of faith (including the wearing of clerical garb), and making criticism of the government by priests punishable by five years in prison. A boycott organized by the Catholic Church prompted Calles to get even tougher, and open war broke out. Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia), a general who had fought for the winning side in the revolution, chose to lead the Cristero rebellion, and the film focuses mainly on Gorostieta, two of his lieutenants, and a young boy named Jose Sanchez del Rio, who was later beatified by the Catholic Church.
Back in March, I was fortunate enough to see a rough cut of the film, and wrote a semi-official review at the time (from which I borrowed the synopsis above) with the caveat that I would wait to see the theatrical release. Last night, my wife and I saw it in its limited Twin Cities release, and the final cut has significantly improved the narrative flow of the film. One of the few areas of concern I had from the rough cut was the difficulty in following the constant shifting between subplots in the first half of the film, and some ambiguity about the intent in some scenes. Those problems were resolved nicely, with additional footage in some areas and smoother transitions throughout. Continue reading