Friday, July 26, 2013

Unheralded Catholic Moments in Film

Got a new article published on the Crisis Magazine website this week. As it shows, it's summertime and I've got movies on my mind. So without further ado, here are a few moments from films that richly embody Catholic values. These are not the usual suspects, i.e., "A Man For All Seasons," "The Song of Bernadette", etc. but either films that sadly lack the attention they deserve or are not the kind of movies you would expect to appear on a list like this. So here we go:

1. The Hustler - Brick-laying Can Be Great If a Guy Knows

A shining moment in a wonderful film, Eddie Felson's description of how his pool skills felt to him when he was really on is a brilliant exposition on appreciating the talents God gives us. Sure, it was just shooting pool, but Felson, memorably played by Paul Newman, reveals in this scene grateful enjoyment of his talent for what it is, not just for what it can do for him or what he can get from it. Doing something and doing it well can truly be its own reward. How far removed we are these days from such sentiments. Imagine how much better the world would be today if employers and employees alike held such a proper and respectful regard for the talents human beings have to offer.

Unfortunately, could not find a video clip but the dialogue can be found here.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Heaven Forgive Me

Oscar Wilde's classic novel made for an outstanding 1945 Catholic film, starring Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders and Donna Reed. The innocence of young Gray is corrupted by an idle lord, played unforgettably by Sanders, and the grisly end of the film reveals the results of his terrible influence on the younger man. The true horror and repentance evidenced by the carelessly scandalous character makes for a powerful display of the grave danger to be found in casual words and example.

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the movie, don't watch this:

3. Ballad of a Soldier - Entire Film

I've always been a fan of war films from earliest childhood and, going back as far as I can remember, I always hoped to see a representation of the true cost of war, of all that untapped potential of all those young lives extinguished before they could really make their mark on the world. It is the essence of Catholicism to prize the individual human being, and the carnage of modern warfare is the most brutally obvious way in which our industrialized world fails to cherish this prize. I always wanted to see that portrayed on film in an honest, non-cloying way. So it shocked me beyond words to discover that such a movie was out there all along, and that it was made in all places in the Soviet Union. This film has such a beautiful soul and gives such a vivid picture of the potential and promise of one young soldier that it is simply amazing that it came out of the same country that literally forced young unarmed conscripts to link arms and charge German machine guns in open field during World War II.

Surely one of the best war films of all time, and one of the most human, and therefore Catholic, in its celebration of individual life, the entire film can be viewed here.

4. Anne of The Thousand Days - I Shall Be Excommunicated

The fact that this film did not become as popular as the equally outstanding "A Man For All Seasons" can be entirely explained by the social changes that overcame (read: destroyed) The West in the 1960s. When "A Man For All Seasons" won multiple Oscars for 1966 there was still an appreciation for traditional theatrical productions. By the 1969 Awards, the edgy, rebel (read: scum) "new" filmmakers were in vogue, and Hollywood laughably made "Midnight Cowboy" the best film of the year ahead of "Anne of the Thousand Days." Just try to watch the horribly dated and flat-out awful "Midnight Cowboy" today; the word "excrement" does not even begin to describe it. Meanwhile, the far superior and lasting film snuck under the radar as the years went by. A great pity, for this film crackles with witty dialogue and strong acting performances, from Richard Burton in the lead to John Colicos as a better Cromwell than the worthy Leo McKern was in "A Man For All Seasons" to Anthony Quayle as a far superior Wolsey than the bloated Orson Welles in "AMFAS". Burton's speech in which Henry VIII truly contemplates the consequences of his move to split from Rome is an all-time classic Catholic moment in film, one that is tragically overlooked today because of the whims of a trend-chasing Hollywood in the late '60s.

Find the film if you can, but you can view an actually quite excellent homage to this gem of a scene here.

5. Ferris Beuller's Day Off - A Man With Priorities So Out of Whack

OK, here's a lighter one for you, but I find this to be one of the best quotes to describe Protestants and the materialistic culture they have inflicted on us today. Saw a bit of this movie the other day. LOVE this scene. What makes it is he's stroking and admiring the car as he delivers that perfect line.

Theologically, one of the all-time great Catholic lines in cinematic history! No joke.

That's the worst thing about it: Protestants (and far too many Catholics today) admire material things to such an extent that they don't even understand the actual purpose of the things themselves and thus they end up ruining these very things that they inordinately love. Unfortunately, they ruin it for us all in the process as well because their actions DO have a profound effect on our society.

A clip can be heard here.

*Bonus picks:

6. Auto Focus - Bob Crane and the Color Orange. Gonna post a larger essay on this in the next couple of days. Truly a great contemplation of the high personal cost of grave and persistent sin.

7. Goodbye, Lenin - Entire film. Another movie with a beautiful soul, this 2003 German film is funny, smart and poignant as it portrays a son's love for his mother and the lengths he will go to make her happy. In doing so, we can see how happy it makes him. A touching film on familial bonds and the simple goodness of a son who cares for his mother. Highly recommended.

**Bonus category:

The Single Most Evil Film I Have Ever Watched:

1. Strangers When We Meet (1960)

In contrast to movies that have beautiful souls, this film has the dirtiest soul of any movie I have ever seen. Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak "star" in a disgusting glorification of adultery so heavyset, so long-winded and so "adult" that words fail me in describing how offensive it was. The timing of the film also adds to the outrage, as the divorce culture that is so commonplace to us today was in its very fragile infancy in 1960 and star vehicles such as this no doubt helped nurture it to full malignancy. The most unpleasant, depressing and flat-out demonic film I have had the misfortune to experience.

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