Nonetheless, this mystery [of "the fullness of time"] constantly clashes with the dramatic experience of human history. Each day, as we seek to be sustained by the signs of God’s presence, we encounter new signs to the contrary, negative signs which tend to make us think instead that He is absent. The fullness of time seems to fade before the countless forms of injustice and violence which daily wound our human family. Sometimes we ask ourselves how it is possible that human injustice persists unabated, and that the arrogance of the powerful continues to demean the weak, relegating them to the most squalid outskirts of our world. We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims. How can the fullness of time have come when we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights? A torrent of misery, swollen by sin, seems to contradict the fullness of time brought by Christ. Remember, dear pueri cantores, this was the third question you asked me yesterday: how do we explain this… even children are aware of this.
And yet this swollen torrent is powerless before the ocean of mercy which floods our world. All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing.
--Pope Francis, homily, Jan. 1, Solemnity of the Mother of God and World Day of Peace
As I've said here more than once, I'm among those who have some reservations about Pope Francis. I'm not so sure about his governance of the Church, but I think he's an excellent pastor in many ways. As I've probably also said, it would probably be great to have him as a parish priest. Partly as an effort to focus on what I think is best about him, and partly just because it's Lent, I'm going to try to post a quote from him every day during Lent. Chances are good that I'll miss a few days, but I'll try to keep up. This is from the first page I saw when I opened up Laudato Si earlier today.
Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is "contrary to human dignity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2418). We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality.
If you ever took a class in cinema history, or even read a book on the subject, you’ve heard of these movies. I had, but had not seen them until recently. Twenty or more years ago they were available in the local library on video tape. I checked out the first one, Pather Panchali, but the quality was poor, the story slow and far from gripping, and I had many distractions, and never finished it.
Recently the entire trilogy was broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, which we get via the cable TV service which we use very little and have several times decided to cancel. (I haven’t been able to make myself follow through on that decision, partly because I know it will involve a long time on the phone and partly because we very much enjoy the few channels that we do watch--PBS, TCM, and ESPN during college football season.) So I decided to record the three films. I did this more out of a sense of duty than of anticipation of something wonderful: the trilogy was just an item on a mental list of Classics One Ought To Have Seen.
But what I got was in fact something wonderful, and if you’ve never seen these films, or saw them many years ago, perhaps in an inferior copy, I strongly recommend that you seek out the newly restored Criterion Collection edition. At $65 or more, it’s not something most of us would buy, but one would hope that libraries which maintain good film collections would be getting it. As of this writing, Netflix only has the first two films in the set. I don’t know whether that means it’s coming or going.
The original negatives were severely damaged and partly destroyed in a fire in 1993. The benefactors of mankind at Criterion Collection have taken what could be salvaged from those negatives, combined that with the best copies and prints they could find, and applied all sorts of painstaking manual and electronic techniques of restoration to every frame, producing a version which probably gives you on your TV something as good, apart from the the size of the screen, as most theater-goers saw in the 1950s. (One of the discs includes a documentary on the restoration, which is fascinating.)
This is all very important because in my opinion it’s the visual quality of the films that makes them. I almost hesitate to describe the plot. The three films together comprise six hours or so of what is basically a fairly ordinary story of the childhood, youth, and early manhood of the character whose name is usually given to the whole trilogy. Pather Panchali(Song of the Little Road) gives us his boyhood in a rural village. Aparajito (The Unvanquished) takes him through schooling and adolescence. By the end of Apur Sansur (The World of Apu) he is a young husband and father.
The story moves slowly; our protagonist does not even get born until well into the first film, which is really about Apu’s family more than Apu himself. And there is nothing spectacular in them. We don’t, for instance, see Apu witnessing or participating in any great events. There are no obvious socio-political messages involved—nothing attacking colonialism, for instance—although there are certainly implications of that sort, presumably not accidental. Similarly, there is no agonized wrestling with existential questions, except as they are naturally suggested by the events of an ordinary life. Apart from the fact that he becomes something of an intellectual, and a would-be novelist, Apu is not an unusual sort of person. He and his family live quiet lives. They experience joy and sorrow. They manage as best they can. Apu grows up, leaves home, marries. But to say that there is nothing spectacular doesn’t of course mean that there is nothing dramatic, because there certainly is, as there is in every human life. But it’s quiet and personal and in its sorrows all too normal. Well, perhaps somewhat greater than normal: the family is very, very poor, and financial difficulties and the strains they produce are a big part of Pather Panchali. So is the elemental enemy, death, throughout the trilogy.
I’m at something of a loss to explain why the three films are so captivating. I’ve asked myself how much of my interest is due to the exotic setting and culture. That’s certainly part of it, especially in Pather Panchali, which, at least on one viewing, is my favorite of the three. I’m not sure whether this is a strictly accurate way of putting it, but the best quick description of the setting of Pather is that Apu’s family lives in the jungle. Yet they live in and among large well-constructed stone buildings, and I’m very curious as to how this came about.
And speaking of the exotic, one can’t discuss the trilogy without mentioning its very effective and appealing music, which was composed and partly performed by a musician who at the time must have been very little known in the West, though he later became very well known indeed: Ravi Shankar. I’ve look for a soundtrack album, but haven’t found one. I did find the theme from Pather on a 1962 Ravi Shankar release, Improvisations and Theme from Pather Panchali. I thought the cover looked familiar, then realized that I own the album, though I haven’t listened to it for decades.
But back to the question of the films’ appeal: above all it’s visual, at least for me. Astonishingly, Pather Panchali was Ray’s first film, and also the first for his cinematographer, Subrata Mitra, who had literally never operated a movie camera before beginning work on Pather. Obviously they had some strong instinctive sense of how to compose a scene for the camera, and quickly learned techniques of lighting and such. I found myself, even when nothing much was happening, drinking in the rich imagery. And although the actors were reportedly inexperienced, they have strong and expressive faces to which the camera gives a great deal of attention. I don’t think I’m going to forget the face of Apu’s mother.
I don’t feel like my critical vocabulary is really up to the task of giving an adequate sense of what these movies are like, or what their effect on me was. Whoever wrote the blurb for the Criterion Collection did a better job:
These delicate masterworks...based on two books by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee, were shot over the course of five years, and each stands on its own as a tender, visually radiant journey. They are among the most achingly beautiful, richly humane movies ever made—essential works for any film lover.
And here is the trailer for the new edition. I suggest you double-click on it and watch it at full screen, because at least on my computer the video within the blog column is not centered in its own window and the right side is cut off, which means that when the advertising banner appears I can't close it, and that pretty much ruins the effect. Or click here to watch it on YouTube, where you can get rid of the banner. The haunting theme of Pather Panchali is heard beginning at 1:32.
For once something that sounds like advertising hype is the simple truth: “Don’t miss this opportunity to see three of the greatest films of all time.”
Having watched four of the six episodes now, my opinion is more or less the same as it was after the first one: it's pretty good, not great, and therefore a bit of a disappointment. It depends partly on what kind of X-Files fan you are. Did you like the continuing UFO story, or did you prefer the standalone "monster of the week" episodes? I liked the latter but I thought the former was where the show's real strength and promise were. But they blew it--for whatever reasons, including not knowing whether they would be renewed from one year to the next or which actors would bail out, the story fell apart.
So I was kind of hoping that in the new one they would have in mind a complete and coherent story that would have something similar to the vibe of the UFO story, maybe be related to it. But it appears that they're going in the other direction. At least they have so far. I won't go into any detail in case you plan to see it but haven't yet. Also, it has something of a going-through-the-motions feel to me. And I think they're spending too much time making wry ironic references to the original.
Still, I think any fan of the original would probably find it worth watching.
Very wisely, they are using the original opening credits (as far as I can tell), even though Mulder and Scully look a lot older now (because they are).
Over the past few days I've watched Antonioni's Red Desert. A very striking film, though I haven't quite decided how good I think it is. It depicts a troubled young woman (Monica Vitti) whose difficulties seem to be connected to her environment, an industrial area near Ravenna. The contrast between the lush, fragile, and vulnerable beauty of the woman and the brutal and toxic factories and polluted lands and waters with which she's surrounded is pretty powerful. I'm not sure what it all adds up to, but it's fascinating visually.
The DVD includes an interview with Antonioni. The interviewer naturally is interested in what the director really intends to be saying about industrialization etc. Among other things in his reply, Antonioni says this:
But there are aspects of that world that I even find beautiful. For example, on the road from Ravenna to Porto Corsini on the coast, on one side, factories, smokestacks, and refineries fill the horizon. But the other side is completely covered by pine forest. I think the complex horizon filled with factories is much more beautiful, even esthetically, than the uniform green line of the forest. Because behind the factories, you sense the presence of human beings. They're alive. But behind the green of the pine forests there's nothing. Just animals, the wild. It's not as interesting to me.