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Monday, June 25, 2007
This blog is rated...


This is for all those annoyed people out there who dismiss me as a G-rated square. The truth is, I'm an R-rated square.

(Hat tip to R.F.G..)
Reviving Emily Monday
As she wrote it....

420

You'll know it -- as you know 'tis Noon --
By Glory --
As you do the Sun --
By Glory --
As you will in Heaven --
Know God the Father -- and the Son.

By intuition, Mightiest Things
Assert themselves -- and not by terms --
"I'm Midnight" -- need the Midnight say --
"I'm Sunrise" -- Need the Majesty?

Omnipotence -- had not a Tongue --
His listp -- is Lightning -- and the Sun --
His Conversation -- with the Sea --
"How shall you know"?
Consult your Eye!

As I read it...


You'll know it -- as you know 'tis Noon --
By Glory (as you do the Sun)

By Glory (as you will in Heaven know God the Father -- and the Son).

Mightiest Things Assert themselves by Intuition and not by terms --
"I'm Midnight" -- need the Midnight say --
"I'm Sunrise" -- Need the Majesty?

Omnipotence -- has not a Tongue --
His lisp -- is Lightning.
And the Sun -- His Conversation --

"How shall you know with the Sea"?
Consult your Eye!
A New Renaissance One Church at a Time


I spent yesterday making a mini-pilgrimage to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano which is about an hour's drive south of Los Angeles. I talked my friend Karen of television writing into coming, and my friend Bernadette of Magis into hanging out with us for the afternoon. I wanted Karen to see the new altarpiece that they have recently installed into the Basilica church. (Karen also has come pictures up at her blog.)

The altarpiece was created in Madrid, by one of the only companies that can still do this kind of artwork. (Apparently they have been passing down the skills in one family for 450 years.) The altarpiece, a bargain at $3 million, is forty feet high and 25 feet wide. It is part of a comprehensive beauty facelift in which the pastor has replaced the altar, pulpit, altarpiece and next week, the tabernacle. I love that this is happening somewhere in Christendom. Somebody is actually spending money to make a place of worship beautiful - you know, as opposed to "inclusive", "functional", "simplified" or "IMPORTANT" (ie. political as in lame acrhitectural statements that everybody hates).

The altarpiece in Capistrano gets its unearthly gleam from the fact that it is plated with 24.5 carat gold. We saw a lot of this kind of thing in Spain, but they were all covered with 500 years of soot and darkened candle wax. This thing in Capistrano makes a good case for a nice cleaning of half the churches of Europe. (Somebody, get on that, will you?)

Exquisite in its craft and detail, the altarpiece is the kind of thing I haven't seen commissioned in a Catholic Church for my whole artistically wretched post-Vatican II iconoclasm period life. Kudos go to the pastor of the Mission Basilica, providentially named Fr. Art. Fr. Art told us that the installation of the new altarpiece has transformed the parish. I understand why. You sit there during the liturgy and stare up and something in you moves towards belief.


Anybody who lives in So Cal, it's time to make a pilgrimage to the San Juan Capistrano Mission. If you don't live around here, plan on taking your next vacation somewhere close to Orange County. Go here for the Mission's web site and schedule of Masses.

Here are some shots from around the basilica.

The crucifix over the altar.



There are four saint statues on the altarpiece, that have significance to the Mission. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, called the Lily of the Mohawks for her works of charity after her conversion to Christianity, is also the first Native American saint.



St. Francis is there because all of the California missions - and consequently all the principal cities of the state - were established by Franciscan missionaries.


St. Joseph is there because every year, the Mission relives the miracle of the return of the swallows on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19.


And then there is St. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan who founded the principal missions. He walked more than 35,000 miles in his life up and down the coast and back to Mexico City several times to get the Spanish authorities to do the right thing by way of protecting the native peoples.


Of course, in the middle of the piece just under the Trinity there is a lovely image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas.


Here's a shot of the detail of the framing that covers the altarpiece. The grape vines are a Eucharistic symbol. The swallows are there because of the annual miracle of the swallows for which the Mission is famous.

The pulpit and altar. The altar was designed by the pastor, Fr. Art.


The only thing that seems to me to be a flaw in the Basilica is the brightly colored, but badly executed painted designs on all the walls. They tell me that the art is in the style of the early mission churches. But, it seems to me that the reason they put those ugly things on the walls back in the mission days, was because they didn't have any decent artists around baby California in the 17th century. The designs look weirdly Pennsylvania Dutch to me.


And the portraits are just badly done. They aren't a good match for the splendor of the altar piece, and hopefully, everybody will figure that out eventually.



But overall, the Basilica gets four stars. It's worth a pilgrimage.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Just In Case Your Prayerlife Needs Pumping Up
My friend Frederica Matthews-Greene has posted a stunning testament to a priest friend of hers who was a living martyr of the Romanian Pitesti experiments. Very powerful stuff on torture and the devil. (Hat tip to the Great and Powerful Eve).

The piece had me wondering how I will act when the moment comes. And I think it is coming. Sorry to put a damper on your day, but my compulsion as a historian's daughter is to gaze fixedly at the horizon for the Signs of the Times. My prayer for several years has been for final perseverance.I remember an old nun telling me once that "Final perseverance is the one greatest grace that should be the object of all our striving."

Part of me - the schleppy pathetic part - hates that I am "competing" with the example of people like Fr. Roman in the annals of Church persecution. We are such wimps today, I think. How do we live up to the example of those who really suffered for Jesus? I think most of us will just give in fast under the assumption that God, after all, gets our basic orientation, and wouldn't really want us to suffer, right? I mean, who cares what you say in a pinch? That is, when you're, um, being pinched?

The unbelievable evil of the Pitesti thing is that they made the prisoners torture each other. Demonic. Honestly, when I hear Christopher Hitchens say he doesn't believe in God, I just want to hold him in the shoulders, look him in the eye and say, "Okay. But surely you have to believe in Satan? You can't be that cynical about human nature, seeing you share it. Can you?!"

Anyway, here's a snip of Frederica's piece.


The plan at the prison in the Romanian city of Pitesti was to take promising young men, 18 to 25 years old, and utterly break them down—then rebuild them into the ideal “Communist man.” In the book Christ is Calling You! (St. Herman Press, 1997) Fr. George explained to an interviewer that the Pitesti experiment involved several distinct steps.

Incoming prisoners would be handed over to a team of guards and experienced prisoners, who would beat them and kill one or two, whoever appeared to be a leader. Then the “unmaskings” began, in which prisoners were required under torture to renounce everything they believed. Fr. George recalled being compelled to say, for example, “I lied when I said ‘I believe in God.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my mother and my father.’” This was extremely painful, as it was designed to be. The intention was to undermine the prisoner’s memory and personality, to infiltrate his consciousness with lies until he came to believe them.

A few months ago I was able to talk with another survivor of Pitesti, Fr. Roman Braga, when I visited the Michigan convent where he now is in residence. The Communists had arrested Fr. Roman on an inventive charge: he was accused of trying to overthrow the government by discussing the writings of St. Basil the Great, St. John Climacus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. He spent his first year in solitary confinement, and in the dark, narrow cell could not tell one season from another, nor could he look out the small, high window and see a horizon. “You had to go somewhere; you had to find an inner perspective,” he said, “because otherwise you would truly go crazy.”

Fr. Roman told me that religious beliefs were particularly mocked. Tormenters would set obscene lyrics to the tunes of familiar hymns, and celebrate parody liturgies designed to break believers’ hearts. His sole clue that Christmas or Pascha (Easter) might be near would be the appearance of their themes in the torturers’ arsenal.

One way guards particularly taunted Christians was by telling them that Christ and Mary Magdalene had had a sexual relationship. Fr. Roman noted, laughing, that in Romania this constituted torture, but in America people line up to pay for it in movies and books (“Here in the land of so-called freedom—I am not so sure you are free.”)

Neither man would describe what they’d endured. “It is secret, intimate,” Fr. Roman said, “I saw saints fall, and I saw the simple rise and become saints.” Fr. George admitted that he gave way under torture. When a victim is out of his mind with pain, he doesn’t know what he is saying. Fr. George told his interviewer, “It was a spiritual fight, between good spirits and evil spirits. And we failed on the field of battle; we failed, many of us, because it was beyond our ability to resist … The limit of the human soul’s resistance was tried there by the devil.”

This emotional and spiritual damage was even worse than the physical pain. Fr. George went on, “When you were tortured, after one or two hours of suffering, the pain would not be so strong. But after denying God and knowing yourself to be a blasphemer—that was the pain that lasted … We forgive the torturers. But it is very difficult to forgive ourselves.” At night a wash of tears would come, and with it, returning prayer. “You knew very well that the next day you would again say something against God. But a few moments in the night, when you started to cry and to pray to God to forgive you and help you, was very good.”


Again, somebody tell me why we never see the stories of the Gulag on the big screen? Or the little screen?!

Rats. Go read the whole thing here
Thursday, June 21, 2007
More on Moore
This post started out as me following up on the challenge by a commenter to post the news that Michael Moore is denying charges in the upcoming documentary about him which asserts that he fabricated all the essential details in his first film "Roger and Me."

So, I started looking for the news story of Moore's denial to link to. But on the way I found this:

A veteran who lost both arms in the war in Iraq is suing filmmaker Michael Moore for $85 million US, saying Moore misrepresented him in the film Fahrenheit 9/11.

Sgt. Peter Damon, a National Guardsman from Middleborough, Mass., says Moore twisted excerpts from an interview he gave to NBC's Nightly News to portray him as anti-war.

Former National Guard Sgt. Peter Damon says filmmaker Michael Moore's portrayal of him as anti-war has caused "loss of reputation" and "personal humiliation."

"The work creates a substantially fictionalized and falsified implication as a wounded serviceman who was left behind when Plaintiff was not left behind but supported, financially and emotionally, by the active assistance of the President, the United States and his family, friends, acquaintances and community," Damon says in the lawsuit, according to the Associated Press.

He is claiming damages because of "loss of reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment, and personal humiliation," the lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court last week says.

Damon claims that Moore never asked for his consent to use a clip from the interview. The clip, which shows him talking about an "excruciating type of pain," referred to pain from his injuries, rather than a complaint against the war effort, he says....

Moore did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday. (CBC)


Anyway, here's a recap of the original Moore post about the two Toronto documentarians who started out to make a valentine to their idol, Michael Moore. But then...

"It was a slow reveal, really," Melnyk says. "We go into things and start to research them as we go along and start to do interviews with people, and we started to realize: 'Oh my God, there are some cheats in these films.' Obviously, the biggest one being that Michael actually did talk to Roger Smith twice during the making of 'Roger and Me.'

"That one really, really bothered me. Because, OK, if you're willing to lie about the entire premise of the film, then what is sacrosanct? There must have been other smaller cheats along the way. So that was a shocker."

Moore, for his part, hasn't commented on "Manufacturing Dissent," suggesting recently to a New York film website, www.thereeler.com, that he'd never heard of it - even though, as shown in the documentary, Melnyk approached him at various public events over two years to plead for an interview.

"There are a lot of films made about me ... there's probably nine or 10 of them out there," he told a reporter for the website.

Such apparent disingenuousness is par for the course for Moore, according to those who spoke on camera to Melnyk and Caine. Indeed, the couple say the dishonesty about Roger Smith wasn't the only false note in "Roger and Me" - an entire segment featuring an ABC news reporter telling viewers how a disgruntled autoworker had driven off with the network's satellite truck was a fake. (CBC)


And here is a recent story from the AP in which Moore calls the Canadian documentarians (expletive) liars:

BELLAIRE, Mich. - Filmmaker Michael Moore gave people in the rural county where he lives an early look at his new film “Sicko” on Saturday, and had some harsh words for critics of the documentary that launched his career.

“Manufacturing Dissent,” a film that accuses Moore of dishonesty in the making of his politically charged documentaries, alleges that he interviewed then-General Motors Corp. Chairman Roger Smith, the elusive subject of Moore’s 1989 debut “Roger & Me,” but left the footage on the cutting room floor.

“Anybody who says that is a (expletive) liar,” Moore told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday after a showing of “Sicko,” his take on U.S. medicine, in the northern Michigan village of Bellaire....

Moore, who said he hadn’t seen “Manufacturing Dissent,” acknowledged having had “a good five minutes of back-and forth” with Smith about a company tax abatement at a 1987 shareholders’ meeting, as reported by Premiere magazine in 1990. But that was before he began working on “Roger & Me” and had nothing to do with the film, Moore said.

A clip of the meeting appears in “Manufacturing Dissent,” released in March. Filmmakers Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk also interviewed an activist who said he saw Moore interview Smith in 1988 in New York.

Caine and Melnyk say that undercuts the central theme of “Roger & Me” — Moore’s fruitless effort to interview Smith about the effects of GM plant closings in Flint, Moore’s hometown. Moore, however, said the film wasn’t primarily about interviewing Smith, but getting him to observe the economic devastation in Flint.


We report. You decide.
At the theaters...
I am not sure I am going to have time to write full reviews, but briefly, I want to recommend Evan Almighty as pure, broad, over the top, comedy fun with some nice theology alongside.

I also want to warn you off Ocean's Whatever NUmber We Are Up To Now as it is a complete waste of time. Beautiful actors preening themselves and winking to themselves, "All those people out there really want to be as rich and cool as us." Dumb.
Je Regrette La Vie En Rose
The only really good thing about La Vie En Rose, the biopic of Edith Piaf now in theaters, is the music. Piaf's voice echoes off the screen and mesmerizes so effectively that you understand the momentum that carried this production forward. The last number in the movie "Je Non Regrette Rien" is still playing in my head, despite the fact that the film never convinced me that Piaf could possibly not have had numerous regrets for her sad mess of a life which is documented in the film.

The narrative here is more than regrettable. And it isn't the usual show-offy European mess, in which one has a sense of the Director trying to stand out in your mind with weird images and stylistic closeups. In this film, I really had the sense that the filmmakers were trying their damnedest to write a biopic that would do justice to their larger than life subject, but they were just not up to the task.

This piece is impossibly episodic, with incoherent bits of Piaf's life, played with three different actresses, being intercut in no particular order. The moments are played as highly melodramatic, proceeding unsympathetically from the character of Piaf herself who is all screams and shrieks and unmotivated bad treatment of the people around her. I disagree with the reviews I am reading that claim that the central performance, of Marion Cotillard, is wonderful. I found the make up and costuming the real wonder here as Cotillard is aged so seamlessly, that I thought there were actually four actresses playing the character. The performance to me was over the top, without any moments of nuance that would have drawn me into sympathy with Piaf. I was watching my own lack of sympathy during the screening, wondering, "Have I become so hard-hearted that this woman's plight is not touching me at all?" But no, I am not hard-hearted. The problem is the storytelling, and the acting which was at the level of caricature much of the time. But she really looked good though in the sense of looking and moving like Piaf.

Here's a note about biopics. Most beginning writers (and the principal writer Of La Vie En Rose is a first timer) make the mistake of trying to tell a whole person's life in two hours. You can't do it. In this sense, La Vie is a clinic in the biggest mistake people make in biopics, namely, the failure to make tough choices. What you must do to make a biopic intelligible and entertaining, is pick one phase or theme in a subject's life that somehow gives a sense of all the rest of their life. That means you have to choose to leave a lot of cool stuff out.

La Vie, by contrast, starts with Piaf at five, and then jumps us around from her mother abandoning her to a brief scene of her father in WWI to her father suddenly back and picking her up from a woman we learn is her grandmother. Then, we see her dumped in a brothel and contract blindness, and then meet some friendly prostitutes, and then get snatched back by her father and brought into a circus, and then suddenly she is fifteen and singing on the street with a new friend who becomes a major character, but not before Edith's alcoholic mother shows up begging for money before Edith is discovered by a club owner who gets murdered with Edith's underworld connections which we have just learned that she has, leading Edith to be investigated for the murder, before Edith is really discovered by a guy named Raymond who teaches her how to sing professionally while she is shacked up with a guy who fathers her child which dies two years later of meningitis, and we haven't really gotten to her singing career yet.....do you see what I mean? And that isn't even to the midpoint of the movie.

Way too many events, not enough real moments. Way too many people running by, not enough characters.

But IRONICALLY, another big complaint I had with the film is that it leaves out one big huge HUGE part of Edith's life that I actually wanted to see. World War frickin' Two is skipped over without a mention. Here we are in Paris in 1939, and then suddenly, we are in New York in 1952! HUH!!!??? After the screening, I did some googling on Piaf and discovered that she bravely used the access of her celebrity to save countless lives as a member of the Resistance. I find it to be a stunningly bad choice of the filmmakers to leave all this out of this film. But the idea of "What did she do in WWII?" was diestracting me all through the second part of the movie. Like telling a story set in NYC on September 12, 2001 - without mentioning 9-11. It's hard not to think it is devious.

The film works very hard to show Piaf as being an unrelieved narcissist. It makes the case that she really isn't to blame for being a mess of a human being, but then proceeds to stare at her drunkenness, her rages, her adulteries and her drug use with unabashed voyeurism. The heroics of Piaf's Resistance work really mess with this picture, eh? So they had to be left out presumeably. Some day I am going to write a book about truthtelling in biopic/historical pieces, but for now, know that when you sit down to write a person's life, you owe some fidelity to the essential truth of the person.

On second thought, I don't think they meant to leave out the one good thing Piaf ever managed to do. I don't think the writers here were skilled enough to be aware that even a historical biopic needs a point of view. They left out WWII becaus ethey just didn't have time to go through it all. They thought it was enough to stuff in as many events from Piaf's life as they could without a lot of thought as to what the project was about thematically. It wasn't. Such a project ends up being unsatisfying as documentary, and equally unsatisfying as narrative.

Having said all that, I did retreat quickly in the first act from my expectations that this would be an entertaining movie, to trying to enjoy the visions from the story of 20th century Paris that it recreates. I also spent a lot of time brooding over the mystery of artistic talent. Done much better (because it was conscious!) in Amadeus, this movie is a reflection on how awful personally a person of unbelievable talent can be. And also how the very gifts that are given through the artist to the world, often corrupt the artist herself. (ref. JPII Letter to Artists) But all of these thoughts still didn't make this movie seem less tedious, plodding and repetitive.

Pass on La Vie En Rose. Do go out and buy an album of Piaf's music, however. Her gift still works.
Frederica's Podcast
My friend (is that the right word for someone you hold in reverential awe?) Frederica Matthews Greene has recently started podcasting on a site called Ancient Radio. Frederica, an Orthodox believer, has the charm and serenity that is the mark of wisdom. In my moments of doubt, it is knowing that people like Frederica believe it all that allows me to keep on walking. You'll thank me for the link to her reflections.

Frederica was out here last week for a conference at Pepperdine on sacred music, affording me the rare and wonderful opportunity to pick her up for a too brief lunch. A few minutes into the lunch, Frederica pulled out her cool, state of the art podcast recorder, turned it on and said basically, "Talk." Very smooth! Anyway, so we talked for a few minutes, just enough time for me to alienate every Christian out there who has made a movie in recent years. I didn't listen to it past the first few sentences as I can never stand how nasal I sound when I hear recordings of myself. Sigh. Anyway, it is here if you want to hear another take on my schtick.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Attention: Act One Writing Program Alumni
Dear Writing Program Alumni,

I'm pleased to announce that applications for the 2007/2008 Act Two
Writing Program are now available. The program will provide six
months of advanced training in feature film writing for alumni of the
Act One Writing Program. Applications can be found online at
www.actoneprogram.com/acttwo.htm. Details are below.

Program dates: September 2007 through February 2008

Application deadline: August 6, 2007

Opening retreat: September 14-16, 2007 (lunchtime Friday through
Sunday afternoon, in Idyllwild, CA)

Program description: The Act Two Writing Program provides advanced
training in feature film writing to graduates of the Act One Writing
Program. The program is designed to replicate the studio development
process, with faculty members acting as producers to guide students
through the selection of a promising story and the development and
writing of a feature screenplay. The curriculum includes an opening
retreat and closing party, ten small group development and notes
meetings spread over six months, and four classroom lectures on
advanced screenwriting topics. Writers should expect a rigorous
writing experience that results in completion of the best screenplay
they've ever written and a specific plan for what they will do with
the script next.

Project selection: Writers will propose multiple story ideas and will
work with faculty members to arrive at mutually agreeable projects.

What about writing for television?: This year, the Act Two Writing
Program will focus exclusively on feature film writing. Advanced
training in television writing for Act One alumni will take place
through our successful and thriving TV Spring Training and Fall
Classic programs.

When and where will the groups meet?: Small writing groups will meet
at a time and place to be determined by faculty members in
consultation with members of their groups. Some groups will meet on
weekday evenings, while others may meet during weekdays or on
weekends. We will work with all students to place them in groups
meeting at a time that works with their schedules, and writers will be
expected to attend all sessions.

Application process: Along with the application form attached to this
e-mail, submit two copies of a completed screenplay, personal
statement, 10 loglines, and up to three one-page project proposals;
you may propose a rewrite of an existing script; teams may apply with
a single script that represents their joint efforts.

Application fee : $40

Cost: $1195

If you have questions, please contact me by e-mail at
chris@actoneprogram.com or by phone at (323) 464-0815. You may also
contact Jack Gilbert at the same phone number, or by e-mail at
jack@actoneprogram.com.

Best,

Chris Riley
Director, Writing Program
Act One, Inc.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Script Consulting Service
My friend and associate at Origin Entertainment, (and Act One Alumna!), Vicki Peterson, has formally started a service to read and critique scripts for writers at all levels. I have been using Vicki for over a year now to read and evaluate projects, and she is one of the best that I've worked with. She is very pastoral with writers, helping them to say better what they have to say, as opposed to trying to make every project in her own image and tastes.

Go here for more info about how to enlist Vicki to get your script to the next level.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
You Tube sleeze
Here's an email message I got today.


Have you seen the new change to YouTube? It seems that now, when you click on a video clip to watch it, there's a new thing that happens when you hover your cursor over the screen. Small thumbnails of "related" videos pop up. Of course, only some are related; others are just an attempt to porn up your world.

Let me give you an example. I keep a blog for my son's Catholic high school. Since we're small, I manage to keep everyone informed of deadlines, meetings, practices, etc. plus anything that young Catholics might be interested in...clips of the Fransican Friars of the Renewal, those funny clips that those oh-so-creative seminarians put together, and sometimes non-religious stuff...from the National Spelling Bee, some astronomy stuff, etc. So I had that neat clip of the Sisters of Life posted. And sure enough, there are lots of little "related" videos that pop up now...and one of them "just happens" to be "bisexual sisters". Needless to say, I hadda go through my entire blog, pulling all YouTube videos off.

Here's where I thought you might have an answer: Do you have ideas about alternative video sights that wouldn't promote porn/sleazy pop culture? I saw that there's GodTube and GospelTube, but not only are there explicitly anti-Catholic clips there, it's mostly religious stuff, no academic/artistic/etc. videos.

I'm sorry for bothering you, but I know you're someone who cares about what passes for culture "out there"...and maybe you knew of an alternative site or even know someone who wants to start a clean version of YouTube.


Sigh.

I post this for you parents out there whose kids are surfing You Tube, so that you know that they are being relentlessly, aggressively assaulted with violating and even pornographic material. Even if they are just looking for "nice" You Tube things.

Does anybody know if there is a way people can block these pop ups? Does anybody know how we can assail the Overlords at You Tube to stop propositioning surfers with smut? A focussed campaign here would be a good idea if somebody feel God is calling them to take it on.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Once Won't Be Enough
Hey! I finally saw a good movie this year! And it's sad that I'm kind of in shock because it is such an odd feeling these days to see a really good movie. But the sadder thing is that most of you who read this blog won't get the chance to see this rare good movie, because it has a teeny weeny little distribution, meaning it will play in NYC and L.A. and that's probably it. So, keep an eye out for the DVD. It will be worth a rental.

Once is one of those dramas in which not a lot happens exteriorly, but something huge happens in the soul of the main character. This makes the project, in my book, a very good dramatic film. I really enjoyed it in a way that I rarely enjoy movies anymore because it had such solid craft. My only criticisms came down to matters of taste. It has remarkable creative control, and a profound humanity at its core that has you leave the theater wanting to be kind, and wanting to commit yourself to whatever creative passion you have.

Once is less of a traditional narrative and more of a kind of rock opera...although the music in the film isn't rock as much as poetic pop crooning. But still, with the movie completely built around the sound track, the movie manages to pack in more of a story - and a profound one - than 90% of the movies that are out there right now. It tells the story of a poor street singer in Ireland, whose day jobs is to fix vacuum cleaners. We never learn his name, but we learn everything essential about him from his music. He meets a Czeck immigrant girl who is an accomplished pianist, but who cleans houses to pay the bills. They make a connection through music, and the relationship and music then heal them and allow them to do what they have to do in life.

How much did I enjoy it? Well, I walked right out of the Arclight theater at Sunset and Vine, and into the Borders bookstore acorss the street, and I bought a CD of Glen Hansard's music.

The movie is about art and music and the connection it makes between people. It is about the relationship between friendship and creativity. It is about music as a legitimate escape, and something that can fortify us in our mundane lives. It is poignant, hopeful, humane, and has a sense of mystery at it's core that makes it compelling.

And there is a wonderfully heroic character in this film. The lead female - whose name we never learn in the film - does her duty over and over. There were a few moments in which I sat there thinking, "Ah, heres where the two lonely people connected by music fornicate." But they don't. Ever. Even though they want to. The girl looks at the guy and says, "It would be nice," but then she shakes her head sadly, the loud subtext coming across, "That isn't who I am." It was very cool.

The movie is an exemplar of Gen X dramas in which the story doesn't end in a happy ending, but rather in a firm resolution to tough out life and face up to one's responsibilities. In this aspect it reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lost in Translation.

And talk about one of the greatest last shots ever in a movie. It's topflight and really shows that the director knew what this project was about.

So, why is it rated R? Well, there are a spate of "F" words as adjectives and adverbs in the film, as in, "effing guitar case" and "you're effing kidding me", but there are really only a few of these. I hate that the film is rated R, because a lot of folks who would otherwise love it won't go for this reason.

Once gets my rare, highly coveted "two thumbs up" award. Go see it twice.
"Somebody Save Me from Me"
I've exchanged a few emails with a NY friend about Company, the Tony nominated revival musical that apparently is all the rage on Broadway right now. It's Sondheim, heralded as a key artistic voice of the Baby Boom Generation, (kudos to researcher, Kit) a revisiting of the original 1970's version. I haven't seen the play (I was six when it had it's first largely unsuccessful run), but I've read with interest the lyrics of all its songs, mainly because I always like to see what all the buzz is about, whenever there is cultural buzz about something.

Company is all about modern people being very busy and surrounded by people, and yet being profoundly lonely. Here, for example, are the lyrics to the song that comes at the end of the play, that is supposed to be a breakthrough for the main character, Robert.

Being Alive
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!


Sigh. A lovely use of language, and yet there is still that echo behind the words of the narcissistic refrain that defines the Boomers, the sad whimper of which might end up going nowhere except with them to the grave. The subtext here seems to be, "It's not fair no one loves me. Somebody make me happy!" Or, the subtext of that subtext, "God, you have screwed up again!"

First of all, the obvious thing that seems to be missing to the person singing this song is, "There's a reason nobody loves you. It's because you haven't really loved anybody." Is it really that difficult to figure out what the twilight year legacy would be of a lifetime of "looking out for number one"? Did nobody stop to figure that Botox and tennis weekends weren't going to be able to love them back someday? I always figured it was a trade-off that they were making. But now, the generation that raised its kids according to the creed 'real love means you never have to say your sorry,' wants to have the security of love and caring as they approach death. I am not angry here, really. Just amazed.

On the plus side, it is a good thing that the successful revival of this piece right now seems to indicate that the Boomer Generation is ready to accept that all of the revolutions of the last half a century have basically resulted in such a profound alienation that it feels like death to live. And another huge step forward for the Boomers singing this song is the recognition that love and discomfort kind of go together. So, not having fun all the time is actually a key to finding a life-giving love. Huge! Huge.

If directed to human beings, this song is a frightening and destructive kind of idolatry. No human being can completely free you from your ultimate alienation, because we were designed to be filled only by our relationship with God. If the Somebody in this song is God, then this becomes a stirring and evocative prayer, in line with the psalms that mankind has been singing to I AM WHO AM for thousands of years.

The only thing is there needs to be another verse in this song, and I don't know if Sondheim's generation has enough time left to start singing it. If they do, inspite of all their meanderings and flailings around, they will make it. The last verse needs to be something like this:

Somebody soften my heart,
Somebody forgive me my sins,
Somebody shatter my pride,
And teach me to pray,
And help me to die,
So I can really discover what it means
To be alive.

What you really want to say to the poor soul who is singing for "Somebody" to give their life meaning is, "Dearest, you need to worship God."

For now, I take Sondheim's cry and raise him one Litany of Humility by Cardinal Merry del Val:

Litanty of Humility
Music by the Wisdom of the Ages; Lyrics by Cardinal Merry del Val

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved. Deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being extolled. Deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
Amen.