Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Quo Vadis by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz is a jewel of historical fiction. While the 1951 film is excellent, it is dated; the novel, however, transcends time. The heartrending and vivid portrait of Roman life in the days of Nero combines a romance with the acta sanctorum amid breathtaking historical accuracy. The feelings of the young tribune Marcus Vinicius for the Christian maiden Ligia Callina are transformed by sacrifice and suffering from mere lust into profound love and devotion. In the meantime the early Church prepares to face a grueling ordeal at the hands of Nero. The brutality and decadence of Imperial Rome stand in glaring contrast to the indefatigable new sect, guided and instructed by Peter and Paul. The Christians must deal not only with the violence of the pagans but with some of their own members who betray and deceive. Indeed, part of the impact of the novel is the way it conveys continuity of the past with the present. Followers of Christ must struggle with their own sins and weaknesses as much as with the outside world which seeks to destroy them. It was not easy then; it is not easy now.
Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) received the Nobel Prize for Quo Vadis. He was writing to encourage his Polish countrymen in their many difficulties, and combined superb story-telling with painstaking historical research. Although I prefer the book to the movie, I do not hesitate to recommend the latter. Among 1950's Biblical epics, Quo Vadis is outstanding. Peter Ustinov's performance as Nero is truly something worth watching; few actors could capture the same balance of comedy, pathos and unmitigated depravity. The sets are magnificent as well, and the flow of drama, quite piercing. It is a good way to glean both history and inspiration while being entertained. Share
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Many people are aware of the roots that blue jeans have in America. They are a symbol of everything America is supposed to be: free from the status quo. It is nearly impossible to distinguish social and economic status of any individual wearing a pair of them. They are the invention of Jacob Davis, but were made famous by the entrepreneur Loeb Strauss who later changed his name to Levi. On May 7th, 1873 the patent for them was received from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Jacob Davis had invented the riveted pockets of the blue jeans at the pocket's stress points for a customer of his pants. The customer would constantly bother Davis over the holes that developed in his pockets. It was this that gave Jacob the inspiration for the riveted pockets. He did not have the $68 at that time to file a patent, however, and wrote to Strauss offering to file it jointly with him in exchange for Strauss paying the patent filing fee.
For the next 25 years while Levi Strauss & Co held the patent rights to blue jeans, they became immensely popular among the working class. They were known for their rugged durability. Right after the exclusive patent rights expired and the invention became public domain, many companies started manufacturing blue jeans. Because in the 19th century they were worn by the working class, they were a symbol of the working man. The wealthier, pampered members of society did not wear blue jeans during this era.
During World War II, blue jeans gained the popularity overseas that they had garnished many years before in America. Foreigners admired the pants worn by American soldiers. The end result was that they were no longer solely American. Europeans and other foreigners could now enjoy the benefits of the rugged denim. Shortly after World War II with jeans now internationally recognized as a durable, comfortable pair of pants, sales skyrocketed.
George Will quips and quotes in The Washington Post:
Writer Daniel Akst has noticed and has had a constructive conniption. He should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has earned it by identifying an obnoxious misuse of freedom. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he has denounced denim, summoning Americans to soul-searching and repentance about the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche.
It is, he says, a manifestation of "the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby." Denim reflects "our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings -- the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure." Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not -- authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil. Denim on the bourgeoisie is, Akst says, the wardrobe equivalent of driving a Hummer to a Whole Foods store -- discordant....Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste....
Edmund Burke -- what he would have thought of the denimization of America can be inferred from his lament that the French Revolution assaulted "the decent drapery of life"; it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim -- said: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Now singe, now springe, our care is exiled.Here are ten random facts about Mary I. Many people would not imagine that someone regarded as such an austere character loved dancing and fine clothes. Share
Our vertuous Quene is quickned with child.
Nowe englande is happie, and happie in dede,
That god of his goodness, dothe prospir here seede:
Therefore let us praie, it was never more nede,
God prosper her highnes, god send her good sped.
How manie good people, were longe in dispaire,
That this letel (little) englane, shold lacke a right heire:
But nowe the swet marigold, springeth to fayre,
That England triumpheth, without anie care.
Friday, June 26, 2009
According to the Comte d'Hézecques, who in his capacity as a page at Versailles witnessed the inner workings of the court:
The position of Mesdames at Court being obscure and unsatisfactory, they were seldom seen there. They spent the chief part of the year either at Bellevue, on that splendid height that commands the proud city and the charming country around it; or at the Hermitage, a little garden at the other end of Versailles, by the road leading to Marly.
Madame Adelaide and Madame Victoire were the only survivors of the four daughters of Louis XV who outlived their father. The third, Madame Sophie, had died two years before ; and the other, Madame Louise, had quitted the world in one of those sudden resolutions that can only be inspired by great religious fervour, or by a quick and ardent spirit that will not be satisfied by smaller sacrifices—resolutions that always cause astonishment to men of the world, whatever be their cause....
Mesdames the Aunts only came to Paris in the winter, as they had been able to stay at Bellevue up to the 5th of October. Seeing that they were of very little use to their nephew, unable to enjoy his confidence, and fearing measures opposed to their religious opinions, they at last decided on going to Rome. Possibly in their solitude, standing in a position whence they could form a better judgment of the course of events, theirs was the surer presentiment of all the trouble that hung over their family; therefore, they separated themselves from it for life, but they could not prevail on Madame Elizabeth to leave her brother and accompany them. . . . No doubt Mesdames did not find themselves happy at Rome. The news of the fall of the throne of their fathers and the sorrows of their family came to disturb the peace they might have enjoyed in the Eternal City. They could at least carry their tears and prayers for their guilty country to the foot of the altar, till the day when they were forced to quit the hospitable city that had received them, by conquests that the noble head of the Church could neither arrest nor foresee. So they left Rome to retire to Naples; and, after several changes of their place of refuge, Madame Adelaide had the sorrow of seeing her younger sister die at Trieste. Her own mournful existence was shortened by grief, and she soon died herself at Klagenfurth.—Recollections of a Page, by Comte d'Hézecques, pp. 79-82.
Here is furniture, originally from Bellevue, that once belonged to Madame Adélaïde.
Here is a view of the orangerie and formal terrace at Bellevue. The palace was looted during the Revolution. In 1823, it was demolished.
In the 1780's Mesdames Tantes had Mique create an English-style garden at Bellevue, complete with a tower, a lake, a mill, a dairy and a grotto, similar to what Marie-Antoinette had at Trianon. It is fascinating that they were so censorious of the Queen and yet imitated her in that for which she was greatly criticized, the creation of fanciful gardens. The tower and some other structures of the gardens of Bellevue survived well into the twentieth century; little is left of it today.
Here is a picture of the grotto of Mesdame Tantes, which is just about all that is left of the Bellevue estate. Sic transit gloria mundi.
(Photos from Le Boudoir de Marie-Antoinette) Share
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
On June 24, 1314, the Scots defeated the English army by a resounding victory on the field of Bannock Burn. Vastly outnumbered and facing heavy cavalry, the Scots were led by King Robert Bruce, whose tactical skill won the day. In spite of some military successes on June 23, "The Bruce" knew that victory on St. John's Day was not a foregone conclusion. As it has been recorded:
Robert, on the other hand, was under no illusions at to what he would face the following day. Despite the high spirits flowing from the day's victories, the English army was still intact and greatly outnumbered him. His victories that day would allow him to withdraw with honor which is what he planned to do until an English knight, Sir Alexander de Seton, made his way to the Scottish camp. Brought before Robert, he told of the weak and dispirited condition of their army and pledged on his own life that if Robert was to fight the following day, he would win. Robert, therefore, has two choices if he chose to fight. He could remain with his back to the wood in a defensive position and risk being outflanked or to attack before the English could properly deploy, forcing them to fight on unfavorable ground - he chose the latter.Robert Bruce encouraged his men by a famous speech which the poet Robert Burns later immortalized in verse.
The Scot army rose at dawn on the 24th and by 3:45am it was light enough to see clearly. As they celebrated mass, those who had shown great courage were knighted, including Randolph and Douglas. Full of confidence from the previous day, they formed their divisions and received the order to advance.
Advancing in echelon, Douglas to the left, Randolph at the centre and Edward Bruce to the right, they poured from the wood with a cry. Robert remained with the cavalry and his own division to the flank of Edward Bruce out of sight of the English.
The English, with their split force, were temporarily stunned at the Scottish advance believing they would fight defensively and allowed them to within 100 yards before the order for them to form was given. Suddenly, the Scots halted and dropped to their knees in prayer. Seeing this, Edward sneered, "They kneel to ask for mercy." Sir Ingram de Umfraille, a Scot in English employ replied, "You say sooth now, they ask for mercy, but not of you. Those men will win or die." The king simply replied, "Be it so" and ordered the English advance.
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,To the Scots, who had faced many betrayals by their own, there was nothing lower than a false friend. To be a liar and a traitor was to be a coward; to be a coward was to be a slave. But on June 24, 1314, courage and loyalty prevailed over tyranny. Share
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!
Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power
Chains and slaverie!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn, and flee.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
It is St. John's Eve. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Baptist. It was a tradition in the days of Christendom to have a bonfire in honor of the saint who was a "burning and shining light." (John 5:35) In some places, they still do; my father always had a bonfire in honor of the Birthday of the Baptist. In the Middle Ages, there were St. John carols (carols were not just for Christmas), dancing, and everyone would burn rubbish and old bones as a sign of the end of the old covenant. Houses would be decorated with St. John's Wort, and young girls would sleep with wildflowers under their pillows in the hope that they would dream of their future spouse. Fish Eaters, which has the details about the festivity, also discusses how the Vespers hymn for St. John's Day is the origin for "Do, Re, Mi:"
Another interesting thing about the Feast of St. John: the Breviary's hymn for this day, Ut queant laxis -- the hymn sung or recited during the blessing of the bonfire -- is the source of our names of musical notes -- Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. The hymn, attributed to Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon, ca. A.D. 720-799), was noted by a monk to rise one note in the diatonic C-Scale with each verse. The syllables sung at each rise in pitch give us the names of our notes (the "Ut" was later changed to "Do" for easier pronunciation):Share
Ut queant laxis
Monday, June 22, 2009
That a man like St. Thomas, who rose to the pinnacle of government, could lose his life for speaking truth to power, is a reality we should all keep in mind. He knew that it is better to have interior peace than earthly success, that it is better to lose the esteem of men in order to win heaven.
Quick-minded, urbane, meticulous, cheerful, admirable, and humorous, Thomas More rises to the rank of Lord Chancellor of England before falling out with King Henry VIII over the King’s plan to end his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. When the English bishops break with Rome and Henry is declared "Supreme Head of the Church in England," More, a pious Catholic, can no longer in conscience serve as chancellor, and gives up his high office, income, and great household. To preserve his freedom and protect his family, he also gives up his political and public life, trying to keep a low profile.
But Sir Thomas is too well known to drop out of the public mind, and his silence is widely construed as disapproval, becoming a source of private anxiety and public embarrassment to Henry. What ensues is a riveting cat-and-mouse game, a fox hunt with More as the wily and elusive fox using every trick in the book to elude the king’s hounds baying for his blood. Literally in the book; More is a brilliant lawyer, and his defense is a legal one: if he maintains his silence he cannot be accused of opposing the king.
But presently that is no longer enough, and More must give up his freedom and property in order to save his neck. And when even that is not enough, to preserve his integrity More lays down his neck. All this, because there is something he will not do: He will not swear under oath that he accepts the King’s title and new marriage."When a man takes an oath," Sir Thomas explains to his daughter Margaret in a crucial scene, "he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water." He cups his hands. "And if he opens his fingers then — he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loath to think your father one of them."
The 1988 version starring Charleton Heston is also excellent although not yet available on DVD. Share
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Jane Austen's World explores what it was like to be a maid. To quote:
As with the scullery maid, the maid of all work was generally a very young girl. She could also be a mature woman so down on her luck that the only other choices open to her were life on the streets or finding shelter in a work house, which was to be avoided at all costs. In Mansfield Park Fanny’s family in Portsmouth is described as being poor, yet even they were able to hire a maid of all work, so you can just imagine what the work conditions were like for these poor women, who literally did everything from cooking, sweeping the floors, hauling water, carrying out slops, looking after the pets and children, laundering, changing the beds, and serving the family at mealtimes. Maids of all work were the first to rise and the last to go to bed. If the house was small, they were lucky to receive a pallet to sleep near the fire in the kitchen. As for time off to rest and recuperate, a maid of all work was at the mercy of her employer.Share
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Father Angelo says:
Our Lady is the Ark of the Covenant. A bit of advice of all Uzzah’s of the world: Don’t touch the Ark (cf. 1 Chronicles 13:10). Leave it behind the veil. God is not likely to strike anyone dead, but some things are too holy to be violated by our paltry eyes and hands. (And no that does not mean I think our eyes and hands are evil, just not worthy to unveil the Blessed Mother.)
....There is nothing wrong with leaving the body under the veil and only revealing it to one’s spouse when the two find themselves within the sanctuary of the nuptial garden. For this no one needs to feel guilty or damaged. It is not a matter of prudery, inspired by the Manichean demon. It is a matter of reverence, inspired by the Queen of Virgins.
I am reminded of how the angel at Fatima asked the children to make reparation for offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When I hear of the irreverent remarks made by some Catholics about Our Lady, I think that reparation is called for, particularly on this her feast.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Ellen: Newland. You couldn't be happy if it meant being cruel. If we act any other way I'll be making you act against what I love in you most. And I can't go back to that way of thinking. Don't you see? I can't love you unless I give you up.
~from The Age of Innocence (1993)
Martin Scorcese's The Age of Innocence is a film of such mesmerizing beauty that even after multiple viewings I am still absorbing the details. Beneath the meticulous and subtle veneer is a study of decisions, especially those that are made from genuine love, sacrifice being the characteristic of true love. The film shows a wealthy man, after a great deal of struggle, ultimately placing his duties of husband and father above pleasure. He carries the pain of the renunciation and only receives satisfaction from it over time. Ultimately, however, the choice of remaining with his wife and creating a stable home for their children is what gives structure and reality to his entire being. In the end he sees the dream of passion for what it was, a dream.
Based upon Edith Wharton's 1920 novel, Scorcese's film surpasses the original 1930's version in every way. In the words of Allmovie.com's Lucia Bozzola:
Sumptuously shot by Michael Ballhaus, the film offers meticulously designed costumes and settings that evoke a culture as seductively beautiful in its surfaces as it is stifling in its rituals. Unspoken emotions are expressed through such details as yellow roses or a clipped cigar, a fade to red or a single camera move. Using Wharton's original prose to comment on the setting's hypocrisies, Joanne Woodward's voiceover narration suggests how much decisive power is buried beneath dainty femininity.Other reviewers have raved about the film's artistry as well:
The Age of Innocence is a sumptuous motion picture, a feast for the senses. The colors are vivid, from the red and yellow of roses to the flashes of crimson and white that transition scenes. The powerful score moves along with the story, in perfect counterpoint to the visuals - never intrusive, but always effective. The scenes of artfully-prepared meals are enough to make mouths water, and it's almost possible to smell the pungent aroma of cigars. In these elements of the film, Scorsese was ably assisted by contributions from composer Elmer Bernstein and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.
The set design and costumes are flawless, and the audience is legitimately transported to the nineteenth-century (through the help of Troy, NY, where the principal filming was done, and the Philadelphia Academy of Music, which doubled as a New York opera house). This is not some mere token attempt to conjure up images of times past; Scorsese has put so much effort into the illusion that those who didn't know better would be willing to swear that he had discovered a time capsule.
Newland Archer, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, feels constrained by the unwritten rules of his family in particular and of New York high society in general, rules which dictate everything in his life. Yes, it is America, which has theoretically thrown off the traditions of the Old World, yet the strict code of Newland's social set would rival anything Versailles had to offer. He has chosen as his bride May (Winona Ryder), gracious, shallow, and innocent, who no doubt will prove to be the perfect spouse for his niche in the world. It is not surprising that he is madly attracted to May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), about whom lingers an exotic aura of scandal mixed with tragedy. Ellen returns Newland's love, but she gives him up because she will not hurt her cousin May, since under Newland's influence she has resolved to be a better person. Newland marries May but cannot get over Ellen.
The Age of Innocence concerns the struggle between individualism and society and the complications of falling in love with on person when you've committed to someone else....
Archer and Ellen's chaste and pent-up longing gives The Age of Innocence its emotional wallop. Adding to that, the film slyly depicts the social scene itself, including frequently funny passages culled from the novel itself....
However, the film belongs to Scorsese, who injects what could be a staid costume drama with an energizing passion. Sprinkled with Wharton's wry observations, it seems a perfect collaboration despite the fact that Wharton died long before Scorsese was born.
The Age of Innocence resembles the opulent meals it takes pleasure in recreating. It looks and tastes great and when it's over your hunger for exquisite film making has been more than satisfied.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Unless women once again become the guardians of chastity and domestic life, we are all doomed. The dignity and power of a woman lies in her prerogative to say yes or no. She becomes a queen or a plaything with the well-placed whisper of one little word. The whole world turns on this power, and it must be defended unto the death. It is both the stuff of adventure and a primordial, domestic thing. But isn’t domestic life the real adventure, the place where every day is perilous and uncertain, where the whole world hangs in the balance? Yes, the power of a woman’s consent is a domestic reality, one pertaining to marriage and procreation before anything else, but it extends to the whole of civilized life.Share
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The eighteenth century saw the popularity of gardens that resembled nature as closely as possible. To achieve the effect of rusticity, artificial waterfalls and grottoes were constructed. As has been mentioned before, Marie-Antoinette had her own English-style garden, designed with the help of Mique and Hubert Robert, where she enjoyed the outdoors with her family and friends. The gardens also served as a setting for visits of state, although the Queen's gardens were not nearly as elaborate as those of many other nobles. Near the Belvedere was a grotto, also designed by Mique. The grotto, more than any place else, was a spot where the Queen would go for solitude. As Maxime de la Rocheterie describes:
Not far from the Belvedere, and half hidden in a narrow ravine shaded by thick masses of trees, was a grotto which was only reached after a thousand turnings by a sombre stair cut in the rock. The rivulet which traversed it exhaled a delicious freshness; the light penetrated but dimly through a crack in the roof; a bushy growth concealed it from indiscreet eyes; the moss which carpeted the walls and ceiling prevented the noises of the outer world from entering. It was a place for retirement and rest until the day when the queen was to hear the first murmurs of October 5.As Madame Campan relates:
On the evening of the 5th of October, the King was shooting at Meudon, and the Queen was alone in her gardens at Trianon, which she then beheld for the last time in her life. She was sitting in her grotto absorbed in painful reflection, when she received a note from the Comte de Saint-Priest, entreating her to return to Versailles.We hope that in those quiet moments of repose she found the strength to face the storm.
More photos of the grotto, HERE. Share
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I picked up Lost Explorers by Ed Wright in New Zealand last spring, and read it at the beach during our vacation. It is the perfect book to read with the crashing of waves in the background, since Wright brings to life the men who dared to sail into unknown seas with nothing but a compass, a few charts, an astrolabe and the stars. Lost Explorers contains accounts of the explorations we all learned about in school plus many more.
The courage and determination of the explorers is truly mind-boggling, as well as the ruthlessness and obsession to which some of them fell prey. Henry Hudson was so obsessed with finding a Northwest Passage that he did not make the necessary preparations for a winter in the wilderness. His men turned on him and set him adrift in a boat and he was never seen again. I knew part of the story because of Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle but did not have the names, dates and details.
The adventures of Ferdinand Magellan, whose crew were the first men to circumnavigate the globe, is one of the most fascinating accounts of any voyage ever. My grandmother always told us that we are descended from the conquistadors who made it to the Philippines with Magellan. He was a Portuguese commanding a Spanish expedition, quite a feat in itself. Some of the men kept wanting to turn back and would mutiny when Magellan insisted on going forward. He kept control just by sheer force of his personality. When they were seeking the strait at the bottom of South America as a way across to the Pacific Ocean, many of the sailors began to believe the strait did not really exist. Magellan claimed he had seen a chart which proved the strait was there although he had actually only heard of it through word of mouth. After they finally found "The Strait of Magellan" it took them a week to navigate their way through the narrow and perilous passage. When Magellan first glimpsed the Pacific he wept and gave thanks to God. However, he had no concept of how vast an ocean it was and did not bring enough supplies. The men were reduced to eating rats, many dying of starvation and scurvy, before reaching the Philippines. Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines, after antagonizing one of the chieftains. What was left of his crew made it back to Spain without him, being the first men to sail around the world. Why there has never been a famous movie about Magellan's voyage I do not know.
The passion and drive of the great explorers is a recurring thread in the stories. No matter what their century or era, they were determined to go where no one from their homeland had ever gone before. As was often the case, especially with the Spanish explorers, they would set off with a certain purpose in mind but then would get distracted along the way, change their course, and go off in search of a fabled city of gold or a mythological kingdom. Many explorers were quite successful and returned home with fame and wealth, but after a few years they would become restless and set out again on another adventure. Such was the case with both Ponce de Leon and Captain Cook.
It is also startling how many explorers were cannibalized by indigenous peoples. Du Fresne met such a bitter end in New Zealand. After making friends with a Maori tribe and feasting with them for several days, they suddenly turned on Du Fresne and ate him, because he had broken one of their secret taboos. The superstition of the unadulterated pagan world is something which could never be ignored for a moment. Some of the more prudent explorers were the Jesuits. Fr. Marquette showed admirable discretion when dealing with the various native American tribes, learning their languages, befriending those who were amicable and avoiding those who gave hints of hostility. I am left full of admiration for his brilliance, courage and faith.
So many explorers sailed into the blue and were never seen again. To this day, no one knows the exact fate of La Pérouse, sent by Louis XVI to explore the Pacific. Explorers well knew when they left home that they might never return. They went anyway, discovering new lands, opening new trade routes, sometimes with material gain and sometimes not, always at great cost. Share
Monday, June 15, 2009
Duel in the Sun is David O. Selznick's 1946 attempt to replicate his earlier success with Gone With The Wind by creating an another epic about a southern family, centered around a tempestuous heroine. As one synopsis says:
Jennifer Jones portrays a stunningly beautiful half-breed named Pearl with an unbridled spirit that she cannot contain. Her noble father is executed when he lets his emotions run amok [and] murders both his wife and her lover.... She is then sent to live with distant, wealthy relatives in the heart of Texas ranch country. Once there, she meets prejudicial indifference from patriarch Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore). The story revolves around her divided affections between the family's good son Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and his abusive brother Lewton, played with uncharacteristic mean-spiritedness by a young and handsome Gregory Peck. She is seduced by Lewton although her head reminds her of her weak and vacillating choice. The passions of both brothers spins out of control to a stirring climax as Pearl's love/hate feelings morph into a desperate act of vengeance followed almost immediately, and irrationally, by her desires and expression of love.
What makes the film so memorable however is not the story or the actors but the incredibly powerful imagery which transcends the melodrama that surrounds it. The story is played out in a succession of vividly coloured, headily intense visuals which are often far more revealing than the dialogue. From the marvellously atmospheric opening in a sleazy western bar to the unforgettable final dance of death between the doomed lovers, the images sear themselves onto the mind. This is quite clearly kitsch, but it is very striking kitsch. The intensity of the emotions is surprising for a Hollywood film from 1946....Perhaps too much of Selznick's personal life, namely his affair with the leading lady, spilled over into the production, heightening the melodrama. Yes, the film was initially banned by the Church and in several Midwestern towns. However, compared to what is now shown on prime time television, commercials included, Duel in the Sun seems wholesome and almost pristine. Since it is often shown on TCM, I thought it would be worth revisiting, especially in terms of the family dysfunction which creates an atmosphere conducive to disaster.
The direction is supremely professional in the old Hollywood style and remarkably seamless considering that King Vidor walked off the set (tired of having to defer to Selznick) and was replaced by William Dieterle. Some of the scenes have a breathtaking confidence, such as the moment when the Senator rounds up the men on the estate to confront the railroaders and the glowing photography is unusually beautiful to look at. Dimitri Tiomkin's music is wonderful too....
It's a huge folly of a passionately iconoclastic producer, packed with primal themes about lovers and families and the destructive power of sexuality. The film was, predictably, condemned by the Catholic Church although it does in fact get a lot closer to the tone of the Old Testament stories than most Biblical epics. The reason it works as well as it does...is that it is done with total, unblinking sincerity.... Even the hopelessly dated treatment of the black servant is fascinating, albeit for the wrong reasons. This is pure, unadulterated Selznick, and for all its obvious flaws, it's also rather wonderful.
Pearl's father Scott Chavez and Lewt and Jesse's mother Laura Belle had been in love in their youth but had been unable to marry each other. It was after the War Between the States and southerners were reduced to poverty so Laura Belle had to marry money. Both Scott and Laura Belle end up in unhappy marriages but each are too gentle to stand up to spouses who were either negligent or abusive. Unable to control his slutty wife, Scott should have at least sent Pearl to be educated at a convent or a school rather than let her run about in the streets.
Laura Belle married the wealthy Yankee senator Jackson McCanles, who never got over the fact that Laura Belle deep down always loved Scott. The Senator takes Laura Belle away to his ranch, where he proceeds to torment her with sneers and reproaches. It seems they worked out their relationship problems by each taking over one of the boys. While Laura Belle raised Jesse to be a gentleman, the Senator spoiled Lewt, taking pleasure in his wild ways, almost as a way to get back at Laura Belle. As the film opens, the McCanles household is a veritable tinderbox of angers, resentments and passions, just waiting for a spark like Pearl Chavez to walk in and make it explode.
One aspect of the story which irks me more and more as I grow older is how Laura Belle fails to protect Pearl from Lewt. Pearl is a conflicted child, as anyone can see at first glance. She is torn between her wanton mother and her noble father; she is torn between trying to be a lady like Laura Belle and being a floozy like her mother; she is torn between love for upright Jesse and her lust for no-good Lewt. She is obviously the type of teen age girl that a mother keeps an eye on. Laura Belle should have kept Pearl right at her side rather than let her loose on the ranch. Pearl was her own cousin and had been entrusted to her care. Since predatory Lewt made it clear that he was interested in Pearl without respecting her, Laura Belle should have taken Pearl upstairs to live. Instead, Laura Belle allows Pearl to sleep downstairs with the cowboys where it is easy for Lewt to ravish her. How can any woman be so simple-minded? But to give Laura Belle some slack, she was raised not to think ill of others and, as time went on, she taught herself to ignore the ugly side of life. She tried not to see what Lewt was becoming, and would not acknowledge that he was a reprobate until blood had already been shed. Such blindness on the part of a mother can be costly indeed.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
We live in times when blatant immodesty is rampant. Everywhere we are bombarded with intimate sexual details of the lives of strangers. Topics which were once only discussed between married couples and their doctor are now bandied in front of children and in mixed company. The sense of shame has all but disappeared. What is more, as Our Lady of Fatima prophesied in 1917: “Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much.”
It is human nature to oscillate from one extreme to another. Lady-like clothes have been replaced by either scanty attire or boyish sportswear, as Genevieve Kineke ponders in her book The Authentic Catholic Woman:
The everyday dress of women should work to their advantage and call to mind the inherent dignity of a child of God. There is tremendous latitude in style today, but few current fashions really flatter women. From the nearly indecent clothing once restricted to red-light districts to androgynous athletic gear, young women are pushed into choosing styles that make social statements that may be far from what they have in mind. (Kineke, Genevieve. The Authentic Catholic Woman, Servant Books, 2006)St. Paul enjoined his Christian women converts to cloth themselves modestly. "In like manner women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair or gold, or pearls or costly attire."(1Timothy 2, 9) Two thousand years later, the Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes the words of the Apostle: “Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love…. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing.” (CCC, 2522)
However, there seems to be a trend among devout Catholic ladies to react against the gross immodesty of the general society by dressing themselves in bleak, shapeless, androgynous clothes. Modesty does not imply androgyny; a woman can be modest and feminine without being frumpy.
Let us avoid the extremes of Gnosticism. Gnostics, such as the medieval Cathars, thought that the body was bad, created by the devil. We Catholics believe the body is holy. As author Colleen Hammond wisely counsels:
Remember, it’s about moderation. Not too much one way, not too much the other. Take, for example, someone who purposely 'dresses down.' This person ignores everyday decorum and dresses in a sloppy, careless manner. Maybe this is done on purpose in an attempt to show disregard for vanity, but what people like this end up doing is drawing undue attention to themselves, which is a lack of humility. ‘Dressing down’ or looking frumpy is not a sign of holiness! (Hammond, Colleen. Dressing With Dignity, TAN Books and Publishers, 2005, p.80)In the thirteenth century, St Thomas Aquinas tackled the various issues of women’s attire in his Summa Theologica. Exploring the question of whether devout women could lawfully use cosmetics and wear pretty clothes, the saint and Doctor of the Church stated:
A woman may use means to please her husband, lest through despising her he fall into adultery. Hence it is written (1 Cor. 7:34) that the woman ‘that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband.’ Wherefore if a married woman adorn herself in order to please her husband she can do this without sin….(Summa Theologica, Question 169, Article 2)St. Thomas reflects in the same article that unmarried women, who feel called to the vocation of marriage, may also “lawfully adorn themselves,” as long as they, like their married sisters, avoid immodesty and vanity.
Excessive preoccupation with oneself is never spiritually healthy. Nevertheless, it is possible to be self-absorbed while lounging about the house in sweat pants. Sometimes, taking the time to look nice to please one’s spouse requires extra effort and virtue. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand says it thus:
St. Francis de Sales does tell us that pious women should be well-dressed, but this doesn’t mean they must become slaves of fashion. There’s a way of dressing which is attractive, even elegant, but at the same time modest and simple. More importantly, attractiveness shouldn’t be reserved for guests and those you meet outside the home, while you ‘let yourself go’ when you’re alone with [your husband.] (Von Hildebrand, Dr. Alice. By Love Refined: Letters to Young Bride. Sophia Institute Press, 1989, p.116)I look at it this way-- what would it say to our daughters if we who stay home with them looked like drudges all the time? It says that being a stay-at-home wife and mother is boring, tedious, dehumanizing and slavish. It would make any girl want to run screaming from motherhood. And while it is difficult, tedious and challenging at times, it is also a joyous, creative, God-given vocation. Being a Christian wife and mother has a certain dignity; it is a gift and privilege and the girls (and boys) need to be shown it as such. How we dress can say how we feel about what we are doing, that keeping our houses going for our families is of value, and that our husbands are worth looking nice for. And the children then a get a sense of their own Christian dignity, as well.
Modesty can be feminine and attractive. Of course, we will make a mess of ourselves in the kitchen, in the garden, and chasing babies around. But a dab of lipstick goes a long way….
(From the July/August 2008 issue of Canticle)
(Photo from Peruvian Connection) Share
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The tarantella became increasingly popular in high society; many famous composers, including Chopin, Liszt, and Rossini, wrote their own renditions of the Sicilian folk dance. The dance is described thus:
The tarantella is mainly an Italian country partner dance, which features numerous twirls and spins. It was popularized as a ballroom dance by Madame Michau in the 19th century, and performed in France and England. The ballroom dance differs significantly from the country Italian dance, but it gets the main elements down. Usually music for the tarantella is in 6/8 or 3/4 time, or you may find some versions in 4/4 time with a lot of triplets. Though the dance is partnered, many of the steps are danced away from each other, and steps together are often taken with the partners side to side instead of face to face.Share
Many of the steps are in triples, like triple gallop steps to left and right. In the country dance version, women can partner with other women, but the ballroom dance features a male and female partner. The dance is always vigorous, and triumphs woman’s superiority over admiring men (at least during the dance).
Friday, June 12, 2009
This 1958 adaptation of James Jones's semi-autobiographical novel about his early life as a novelist after leaving the army is, however, in other respects a quite brilliant look at the hypocrisy and conformity of small-town life in the Midwest and those who challenge it. Jones had a great ear for a title (From Here to Eternity, from Kipling) and this one comes from the New Testament (Mark 10:17): 'And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' A masterwork with a great performance from Dean Martin.Directed by Vincent Minnelli, Some Came Running has the florid look of a juke box, and quite intentionally. As author Dana Polan describes:
Minnelli himself explained the inspiration for the scene's visual style in this way: “I decided to use the inside of a juke box as my inspiration for the settings… garishly lit in primary colors.” (2) His comparison is fitting for, along with the vibrant look of technicolor cinema, the jukebox captures that side of the American 1950s caught up in a loud kitsch, a visual display that proudly proclaims a showiness that verges on vulgarity. If a common cliché of the 1950s imagines the period as one of bland conformity, in contrast a whole series of pop phenomena – from the jukebox (and the splashy music contained therein) to the cinema to pastel fashions to overlarge cars with razor blade-like tail fins to the shimmer of Jell-O and so on – remind us of everything excessive in the decade; of everything, indeed, that exceeds bland middle-class propriety.The film stars Frank Sinatra as Dave Hirsch, a soldier returning to his hometown in Indiana after World War II. After a troubled childhood, in which his older brother Frank abandoned him to a reform school, Dave found some success as a writer before going to war. Returning home depressed and bereft of inspiration, Dave has given up writing in favor of drinking and gambling. He picks up and discards a cheerful floozy called Ginnie (Shirley MacLaine.) Ginnie, however, is not so easily discarded and, having decided that Dave is the love of her life, decides to keep hanging around in spite of his inattention.
Meanwhile, Dave encounters his brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy) who has since married money, quite unhappily, and is the town jeweler, highly respectable. Dave's appearance immediately has Frank's wife Agnes in an snit, since the appearance of the black sheep of the family might imperil her social standing. Dawn, the teenage daughter, gravitates towards him immediately, however. Frank and Agnes whisk Dave away to the country club, where he meets Gwen the school teacher, played by Martha Hyer, all fire and ice. Gwen is fascinated by Dave as a writer but he treats her like another woman he has picked up. He has become so used to using and discarding tramps that he has no idea how to behave with a woman who touches his heart. However, after Gwen reads his story and sees his deeper side, Dave manages to get her to let her hair down, quite literally. It speaks volumes for the skill of the director and cinematographer that they were able to capture a passionate moment just by the lighting, with the heroine removing nothing but a few hairpins.
Dave thinks that his encounter with Gwen is the beginning of a life together but Gwen, frightened by his constant overtures, feels the loss of virtue too keenly and pulls back. When she meets Ginnie, Gwen is appalled to realize that Ginnie sees her as a rival for Dave. Unable to deal with the humiliation of being put in the same category as a woman like Ginnie, Gwen tells Dave that she never wants to see him again, even as his story for which she had such high hopes is finally published in a magazine.
Heartbroken and confused, Dave goes to Ginnie for consolation and impulsively decides to marry her. He despises her because even as Ginnie tries to read his story she does not understand it. But Ginnie, in the end, has something beyond wealth and knowledge, she has great love, and the willingness to sacrifice herself totally for the beloved. She is determined to seek transformation in order to be a good wife. Newly married, Dave and Ginnie plunge into the vivid cacophony of the carnival where, in a tragic culmination of events, Dave at last discovers the meaning of love and of life. Share
Mr. Celente argues that we’ve socially destroyed our productivity and have abandoned it to other countries.Share
“And we have fallen into a moral vacuum. Look at how people used to dress. Smartly. Not like the cheap hoods of today. Fashion now copies the lowest common denominator. Our children wear clothes without belts, and shoes without shoelaces, to copy the styles of the violent criminals -- who have these items removed by the police in prison so they can’t be used as weapons. That’s become the fashion statement of today’s youth. Like rap music from the ghetto. We’ve become an underdeveloped nation.”
Mr. Celente observes that "people used to think of America as that shining beacon on the hill with 'liberty and justice for all…' ." So what happened?
"Morality is missing from our American public consciousness. Start with Wall Street. It’s run by a criminal gang. The only question is ‘how much can you make, how much can you steal?’ At the bottom, the welfare recipient says ‘how much can I take?’ And the government is in on the take."
“Morality is absolutely the issue. We had a government where we were taught all our lives that we are a free enterprise system -- so we depend on our own strength, our entrepreneurial ideas. The world used to look to us for our innovative spirit.”
“This is being destroyed before our eyes. And our government has become more interventionist than any of the old empires could imagine.”
Thursday, June 11, 2009
A comparison of Westminster Abbey and the Abbey of St. Denis in the 13th century does offer, as William Chester Jordan summarizes in his Epilogue, a fascinating angle for understanding the relationships between England and France, the Church and the State, exempt monasteries and local hierarchies, and between the two Benedictine monasteries. Although he might presume some knowledge of the era in his readers, Jordan provides an excellent narrative of the major issues of the 13th century: the disputes between England and France, the Crusades, and the monastic movement.Share
Westminster Abbey and the Abbey of St. Denis had a similar status in their countries. Both reported directly to the Pope, bypassing the authority of the local bishop and both had a special relationship to the throne. Westminster served as both the site of coronation and of burial of kings; while St. Denis contested with Reims for the honor of crowning the king.
The abbots Jordan follows came to their rule the same year, 1258 and both fulfilled important roles for their king. Richard de Ware of Westminster travelled often on diplomatic missions for Henry III and Edward I, so much so that discipline the Rule of St. Benedict became lax and he had to respond strictly. Mathieu de Vendome of St. Denis assisted Louis IX when he went on Crusade and served as Treasurer for Louis IX's heir Philip III.
The two older kings also had much in common: kingship, devout personal piety, vow to go on crusade (except that Henry III never did), and married to sisters--but they also were often officially at war. Both kings looked to these abbeys as important emblems of their personal piety and of national pride. Henry III particularly lavished gifts and benefits upon Westminster to build a proper shrine for Edward the Confessor. Louis IX may have been distracted by the building of Sainte Chapelle as a proper shrine for the Crown of Thorns, but his heir was certainly focused on making sure his saintly father's tomb in St. Denis was ready for pilgrims' intercessory prayers and to be the site of miracles in answer to those prayers. For a time Edward I had the same hopes for his father, but they faded at Westminster.
The book describes the pecuniary and juridical concerns of both monasteries to maintain their authority, their possessions, and their income. Their direct, exempt ties to Rome credited some tensions with the local ordinaries. Vendome slammed the doors on St. Denis on the bishop's face when he came dressed in vestments indicating rank over the abbot's, while de Ware fought the Franciscan Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pecham, over who could arrest and charge whom on a Westminster holding.
Briefly at the end, Jordan compares the fates of Westminster and St. Denis in later days. French revolutionaries desecrated the graves of kings and queens at St. Denis, scattering bones later gathered in a mass grave. Westminster would survive the English Reformation and the Civil War relatively intact, but Jordan wonders what Richard de Ware would think of all the tourists!
Well-illustrated and documented, A Tale of Two Monasteries is great reading for students of the Middle Ages and ecclesiastical history.
Donna Marie Cooper-O'Boyle continues the discussion, HERE. Share
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Here is a poem by my fifteen year old godson.
Never has the breeze sounded so caressing.
It shall never be as beautiful as this sunny day.
This beach can envelope my soul,
until I myself am gone completely.
What if I could fly with the seagulls or swim with the fish?
How free and fanciful I would be.
Sadness does not mean a thing, just a whisper.
Tears staining my cheeks,
I can't stop them.
Rolling into the epitome of melancholy.
A crab is nibbling at my toes.
How funny it is that we are both enjoying the same air,
the same rolling waves hitting the shore.
When our time together is done,
he will wash away into his watery home,
and I will return to my never ending life.
Strength can be sustained if I only drop,
back into the soft welcome of the sand.
I could go with him but that would seem foolish.
So goodbye beach, water, crab.
I hope your splendor will remain here as it does in my heart.
Warm, touching, ending
By Connor Laughland
(Artwork: Joaquin Sorolla, Beach on the noon) Share
A theology of the body which does not sufficiently integrate a Marian and feminine dimension in these ways, cannot but default into what becomes a one-sided and distorted male approach that treats the body too explicitly and too reductively as the object of a look (even if a “pure” one). The result is a tendency, for example, to conflate modesty with prudishness or guilt-induced shame, with a consequent displacement of modesty in its true meaning as an enhancement of genuine bodily beauty.
Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger offers some in-depth commentary as well, saying:
I will be the last person to deny that prudery is a problem. I have seen very often an excessive reliance on secondary rules for modesty entertainment and general behavior that is narrowing and sometimes sectarian. It is a real problem in certain circles. However, in matters of sexuality I don’t believe that more is necessarily better: more talk, more fascination, more flesh unveiled. What is needed is good judgment: naming the darkness of lust, without projecting it onto the body, but at the same time realizing that some mysteries need to remain veiled and should only be unveiled within the sanctuary of holy matrimony.
Which brings me back to a consideration which I have mentioned before: apologetics is not enough. Yes, there are thousands of people, who have had their innocence destroyed at a young age, who have been saturated with our pornographic culture, who have been wounded by Puritanism or addicted the satiation of their lusts.
The veil is off. “We have seen everything,” so, we are told, “and we had just better make the best of it. In fact, with this new way (TOB) we can actually transform our pornographic fascination into a holy one.”
I disagree. At some point we need to move beyond apologetics and put the veil of mystery back onto to marriage and sexuality, and especially the Blessed Mother, for heaven’s sakes. This re-veiling is a real problem, I admit, but it is also one of the real challenges of our age.
Please visit Fr. Angelo at his blog, Mary Victrix. Share