Archive for the ‘Film’ category

Julius Caesar, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1953)

June 19, 2013

Who made the salad?
Caesar made the salad!
– Old ad

This film, at 60, is nearly as venerable as the play itself. A third generation of schoolkids is being assigned to watch it, now on streaming video. The ancient black-and-white is the medium’s translation of marble monuments. But the blood on the conspirators’ garments could just be sweat stains.

With nearly all of Act Four cut, and much of Act Five, the oration of Mark Antony is the center of the piece, and all the energy dissipates after Brando’s “When comes such anothaaaaaa?!!” Brando’s bare chest enticed the masses on the movie poster, but John Gielgud as Cassius is the noblest actor of them all.

Although getting on, Greer Garson is still every bit the matinee idol as Calpurnia and matches well with Deborah Kerr’s Portia. There should be more films with women in togas.

Latin America


Les Misérables

December 29, 2012

The apparition of these faces in the crowd …
–Pound, “In a Station of the Metro”

Yes, this really is an opera rather than a musical, in that there are few spoken lines. A handful of scenes approach an operatic feel, especially the trio with the young tenor (Eddie Redmayne), soprano (Amanda Seyfried), and mezzo (Samantha Barks). The music itself, though, is unremarkable. No one is going to go home humming any of it (well, maybe “On My Own”). All the opera houses have supertitles now–subtitles would have helped here, or room in the budget for a diction coach.

Hugh Jackman’s part was too high for him–especially in the second half of the film, where he was straining with his head voice, it was a bit painful to watch. A just transposition could have worked wonders. Russell Crowe burst past his low expectations. His role called for no singing fireworks, but he excelled in the limited range that he had.

The inn scene with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter was a welcome change from the dour mood of the first half hour, but it didn’t need to be so . . . gross.

The film relies heavily on CGI, so that Paris resembles Minas Tirith (complete with a statue of an Oliphaunt). Scenes are generally very dark; perhaps only about 20 percent of the screen time is in daylight.

Anne Hathaway’s part was cut as short as her hair, so that she played not a character, but a statistic.

And on the hair–not to give away the ending, but it could be pointed out that the blessed will rise again at the age of youth, as Christ did.



The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)

January 1, 2012

What infinite heart’s-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
Henry V, IV.i

In a future 1980 or so, the former Archbishop of Lviv (Anthony Quinn) is released from the Gulag by personal order of the Premier (Laurence Olivier) and, pursuant to an agreement with the Holy See, whisked to the Vatican, where he is made a Cardinal just in time for the Pope (John Gielgud) to die. After a number of inconclusive votes, the cardinals turn to this newcomer and make him Kiril I. In order to demonstrate his seriousness in the need to relieve world poverty, he refuses to be crowned with the tiara and pledges to give away all the wealth of the Church.

It’s full of holes, but still a lot of fun. Quinn’s earnest performance makes all the improbabilities go down easy: He’s an eastern-rite bishop made Pope–it’s never been done, but there’s always a first time; he is not attended by a gaggle of aides everywhere he goes, but seems to have all those big rooms to himself; Fr. Telramond (Oskar Werner, sounding like he attended boarding school in England with William F. Buckley Jr., as a stand-in for Teilhard de Chardin) is under investigation for heresy, but is trusted with delicate diplomatic missions; and finally, the dramatic gesture at the end–we see the Pope put aside the tiara (in Fr. Neuhaus’s phrase) and hear the cries of “Viva il Papa!“, but don’t get to see how this all turns out for good. It’s interesting to speculate–how much could the Vatican raise if it really wanted to sell everything off? Would there even be a buyer for St. Peter’s, or would it have to be stripped and pieces sold individually?

You can feel the tension in the script as the story was stretched from its pre-Vatican II origin to a post-Vatican II reality. Much of the stiffness and ceremony in Vatican proceedings was already starting to melt away by the time that the film came out. Kiril, for all his freshness and lack of pretension, is careful always to use the first person plural in dealings with clergy. This shows how on one level, the story is really a conciliarist’s fantasy–a Pope with all the strength of Pius XII, if not Gregory XVI, with the willingness to use it to cram through the much-needed change.¬† Of course, if Kiril governed as humbly as he spoke, he would be run over by those unwilling to join him–another St. Celestine V.

The last papal coronation was of Paul VI in 1963. He later sold his tiara to raise funds for the poor. The tiara lives only in the papal coat of arms (when not eclipsed by the miter), but the poor are still with us.