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
A Fugitive: I have a question, Lieutenant. When did you lose your faith?
A Lieutenant of Police: When I found a better one.
The film For Greater Glory has reminded me of director John Ford’s forgotten The Fugitive (1947). Very loosely based on Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (no priest in an American film in 1947 was going to have the moral failings of Greene’s whiskey priest) the film did poorly at the box office and soon fell into oblivion, except among film critics who regard it as one of Ford’s more interesting works. Ford said it was his favorite film.
The film is set in a nameless country, obviously Mexico where the movie was filmed, where religion has been abolished by the government. Henry Fonda is the last priest hunted by a police lieutenant, played maniacally by Pedro Armendáriz. Armendariz is a whole-hearted convert to atheism, and views the capture of Fonda as a noble task. Continue reading
No one, surely, Venerable Brothers, can hazard a prediction or foresee in imagination the hour when the good God will bring to an end such calamities. We do know this much: The day will come when the Church of Mexico will have respite from this veritable tempest of hatred, for the reason that, according to the words of God “there is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord” (Prov. xxi, 30) and “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. xvi, 18) against the Spotless Bride of Christ.
Pius XI, INIQUIS AFFLICTISQUE
I knew that my viewing of For Greater Glory was going to be something special when two Dominican nuns, in habits, came out of the showing before the one my family and I attended and one of them remarked to me that it was a very powerful film. I replied that we were looking forward to seeing it. Well, that wasn’t completely true. My worldly, jaded 17 year old daughter would much have preferred to have been back home killing zombies online with her internet chums. By the end of the film she was weeping over the scene in which 14 year old Blessed José Sánchez del Río, stunningly portrayed by Mauricio Kuri, was martyred. I did not blame her. I have not been so deeply moved by a film since I saw The Passion of the Christ.
Before we go any farther, I should announce the obligatory spoiler alert. I will be mentioning plot elements that people who have not seen the film might not wish to have revealed to them. For those wishing to continue on, if you have not read my initial post here on the historical background of the Cristeros War, you might find it helpful to look at it before reading this review. Continue reading
Happy New Year to all our readers. Clan McClarey spent New Year’s Eve in our usual fashion in watching the movie Dune (1984) a movie so wretchedly bad that it is good, if watched as an unintentional comedy! When the film was originally released the introduction to the film consisted of the above video by Princess Irulan, portrayed by Virginia Madsen, a very minor character in the film. When it was determined that the introduction merely confused already confused moviegoers more, at least those who had never read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, a new introduction was made up when the film was released on television:
Upon its release the film was nearly universally panned. David Lynch, the director, disowned the film, and adopted the pseudonym of Alan Smithee, a name traditionally adopted by directors of films that turn out so badly that the directors do not want their names attached to it. The film earned the title of worst film of the year by film reviewers Siskel and Ebert. Janet Maslin in the New York Times gave the film one star, and regarded it as completely incomprehensible: “Several of the characters in Dune are psychic, which puts them in the unique position of being able to understand what goes on in the movie”.
Why is Dune such a grand buzzard of a film?
1. Confusing. Audiences were simply asked to take in too much of an immensely complicated science fiction setting. Now if they had simply had this catchy tune at the beginning of the film, perhaps some of the confusion could have been eliminated:
2. Overacting. A prime example:
3. Sting. Dune was the movie where Sting amply demonstrated that he could not act to save his singer soul. His role is actually fairly minor. But he does have a climatic fight scene where he jumps around like a deranged gerbil and comes off as silly rather than menacing:
In good faith, Mr. Rich, I am more sorry for your perjury than mine own peril; and know you that neither I nor any one else to my knowledge ever took you to be a man of such credit as either I or any other could vouchsafe to communicate with you in any matter of importance.
Saint Thomas More
Two arresting scenes from A Man For All Seasons, (1966). Usually the second scene in the video clip is remembered for the statement by Sir Thomas More that he would give even the devil benefit of the law. I have written about that statement here. However there is another interesting facet to the pairing of these two scenes: a comparison of William Roper and Richard Rich.
Sir Thomas is fond of Roper the suitor of his daughter, and the fondness is obvious in the scene. However, he will not allow him to marry his daughter because he is a heretic. More notes that at one time Roper was a passionate churchman and now he is a passionate Lutheran and hopes that when his head stops spinning it will be to the front again. (Roper did become an orthodox Catholic again and remained one till his death, even under the reign of Bad Queen Bess.) In spite of Roper being something that Sir Thomas detests, that does not alter either his liking or his high regard for the young man. Why is this? Because Roper is obviously seeking after the truth and attempting to do what he thinks is right. Such good motivation is to be respected even when it reaches erroneous conclusions.
Richard Rich on the other hand lacks such motivation. More likes him also, but recognizes that he has no character. Rich will do whatever it takes for him to rise in the world, and if that involves immoral actions, so be it. Unlike Roper he lacks any good motivation or honest intent. (The historical Rich was a complete scoundrel and recognized as such at the time. He specialized in betrayals and making himself useful to whoever was in power at the time. Under Henry and Edward he persecuted Catholics, under Mary he persecuted Protestants, and under Elizabeth he was whatever she was. It is a sad commentary on the human condition that such an open, time-serving villain prospered and died in his bed, the founder of an aristocratic dynasty.) Continue reading
In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.
Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.
The video at the beginning of the post shows an interview done of Harold Sinclair during the making of the film. Go here to read a note by Sinclair at the beginning of his novel in which he describes the liberties taken in the novel from the historical events.
John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade. William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne. Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.
Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period. I especially appreciated two scenes. John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech:
Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’. You think our boys are asleep down here. Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it. Continue reading
My colleague Michael Denton has a thought provoking post which may be read here, in which he contends that the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington does not stand for the ideals of America, but rather that the Christian message of Love Thy Neighbor is what saves Senator Smith. Michael makes many valid points in his cogent post, but I respectfully disagree that the film is as negative about America as Michael contends, and I think that if the fictional Senator Jefferson Smith were brought to life in our day, he would be a leader of the Tea Party movement. Here are my reasons for making these statements:
1. The Founding Fathers: Like the Tea Party movement, Jefferson Smith takes his inspiration and his political principles from the Founding Fathers (with Lincoln thrown in). We see this clearly in this scene:
Smith is a reminder to a jaded world that, “Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”
When he momentarily loses his idealism about these principles he is reminded that the principles are true by his formerly cynical secretary Clarissa, stunningly portrayed by Jean Arthur, who he, unbeknownst to himself, has converted to his point of view:
“Your friend, Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man who ever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against them didn’t stop those men. They were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that. You know that, Jeff. You can’t quit now. Not you. They aren’t all Taylors and Paines in Washington. That kind just throw big shadows, that’s all. You didn’t just have faith in Paine or any other living man. You had faith in something bigger than that. You had plain, decent, everyday, common rightness, and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world, a lot of it. Remember the first day you got here? Remember what you said about Mr. Lincoln? You said he was sitting up there, waiting for someone to come along. You were right. He was waiting for a man who could see his job and sail into it, that’s what he was waiting for. A man who could tear into the Taylors and root them out into the open. I think he was waiting for you, Jeff. He knows you can do it, so do I.”
2. Faith in the People-This of course is an axiom of democracy. Democracy makes absolutely no sense unless one believes that most people do wish to do the right thing most of the time, once they are sure of what is right. Jefferson Smith has this faith as does the Tea Party with its populist appeals. He believes that once the people of his state know the type of political corruption that controls their state, they will rise up to crush Taylor and his machine. The villains of the film agree with him:
James Taylor to Senator Paine: “If he even starts to convince those Senators, you might as well blow your brains out, you know that, don’t ya? This is the works, Joe! Either we’re out of business or we’re bigger than we ever were before. We can’t miss a trick. We can’t stop at anything until we’ve smashed this yokel and buried him so deep…”
Taylor fears the people of his state and that is why he uses gangster tactics to keep the news of what Jefferson Smith is saying on the floor of the Senate from getting to them.
When Smith is confronted with Taylor’s astroturfed messages denouncing him, he refuses to give up, his body giving way, but not his spirit. Ironically, I think if a vote were cast thereafter in the Senate, Smith would have won. The Senators are viewed in the film as listening to him intently towards the end of the filibuster and are portrayed in the film as increasingly sympathetic to him:
Senator: “I didn’t like this boy from the beginning. But most of us feel that no man who wasn’t sincere could stage a fight like this against these impossible odds.” Continue reading
Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat, but the Alamo had none.
Thomas Jefferson Green
The heroic last stand at Thermopylae of the 300 Spartans under King Leonidas, along with a few thousand other Greek hoplites in 490 BC, has long fascinated Americans. Fighting to the last for freedom has served to inspire Americans in times of war. The recent movie 300, although I greatly enjoyed portions of it, especially the final speech which may be viewed here, was more a comic book brought to the screen, Mark Miller’s graphic novel, rather than any attempt to be historically accurate. Perhaps the finest living expert on classical Greek warfare, Victor Davis Hanson, points out just a few of the inaccuracies in the film:
300, of course, makes plenty of allowance for popular tastes, changing and expanding the story to meet the protocols of the comic book genre. The film was not shot on location outdoors, but in a studio using the so-called “digital backlot” technique of sometimes placing the actors against blue screens. The resulting realism is not that of the sun-soaked cliffs above the blue Aegean — Thermopylae remains spectacularly beautiful today — but of the eerie etchings of the comic book.
The Spartans fight bare-chested without armor, in the “heroic nude” manner that ancient Greek vase-painters portrayed Greek hoplites, their muscles bulging as if they were contemporary comic book action heroes. Again, following the Miller comic, artistic license is made with the original story — the traitor Ephialtes is as deformed in body as he is in character; King Xerxes is not bearded and perched on a distant throne, but bald, huge, perhaps sexually ambiguous, and often right on the battlefield. The Persians bring with them exotic beasts like a rhinoceros and elephant, and the leader of the Immortals fights Leonidas in a duel (which the Greeks knew as monomachia). Shields are metal rather than wood with bronze veneers, and swords sometimes look futuristic rather than ancient.
However, Hanson was a fan of the film:
Again, purists must remember that 300 seeks to bring a comic book, not Herodotus, to the screen. Yet, despite the need to adhere to the conventions of Frank Miller’s graphics and plot — every bit as formalized as the protocols of classical Athenian drama or Japanese Kabuki theater — the main story from our ancient Greek historians is still there: Leonidas, against domestic opposition, insists on sending an immediate advance party northward on a suicide mission to rouse the Greeks and allow them time to unite a defense. Once at Thermopylae, he adopts the defenses to the narrow pass between high cliffs and the sea far below. The Greeks fight both en masse in the phalanx and at times range beyond as solo warriors. They are finally betrayed by Ephialtes, forcing Leonidas to dismiss his allies — and leaving his own 300 to the fate of dying under a sea of arrows.
But most importantly, 300 preserves the spirit of the Thermopylae story. The Spartans, quoting lines known from Herodotus and themes from the lyric poets, profess unswerving loyalty to a free Greece. They will never kow-tow to the Persians, preferring to die on their feet than live on their knees.
Something for the weekend. Conquest theme from the 1947 film Captain From Castile. As all University of Southern California alums know, the work was composed by Alfred Newman who bequeathed all rights in the work to the University to play at football games.
The movie Captain From Castile, based on the novel of the same name by Samuel Shellenbarger, is quite worth watching. Tyrone Power plays Pedro de Vargas, a nobleman on the run from the inquisition who becomes one of Hernan Cortez’ captains. Cortez is portrayed by Caesar Romero who steals every scene he is in. He captures Cortez perfectly: larger than life, endlessly innovative, always optimistic no matter the challenge, and overflowing with raw charisma. The film ends before the campaign to conquer Tenochtitlan which is a disappointment. Continue reading