Tag Archives: film

14 January: Outside the City, Nick Hamer’s film about the life of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey.

Outside the City is the result of a year spent with the community of Mount Saint Bernard’s Cistercian Abbey in Leicestershire, England. The monks speak about the monastic vocation which some of them have followed for half a century and more. We witness the decision-making process that resulted in the first English Trappist Beer, Tynt Meadow, being perfected, brewed and brought to sale, with the help of a Dutch beer consultant. He reiterated what I was told in a small brewery in Amsterdam: the brewing is the fun bit; cleaning, cleaning, cleaning is 95% of the task, and indispensable.

The brewery will be the main source of income for the community, but there are other forms of work, such as pottery, welcoming guests, housework, and care of the elderly and infirm monks. The main work of the monks – the Opus Dei, God’s work – is prayer: the Eucharist, the Divine Office, and personal prayer.

There were two parallel streams: the presence of God and the presence to oneself: monks spoke of God as unknowable, not within human understanding, but certainly knowing and loving each one of us; therefore there is a mission to pray on behalf those of those of us who do not have time for prayer, or even time for God at all.

Death was spoken of in a very matter-of-fact manner, a presence in the lives of older monks at least, and we witness the last rites of two of them. ‘My friends are all here in the monastery’, one of them had said, but the crowd that gathered for his funeral witnessed otherwise. The monastery may be outside the city, but the city makes its way there.

Near another city, Bamenda, on another continent, Africa, Mount Saint Bernard’s has a daughter house, built to the design of one of the Leicestershire monks. We follow Abbot Erik there on his official visitation. Here the dairy farm is thriving and we witness the birth of a heifer calf, an occasion of rejoicing. As at Mount St Bernard’s, the community is self-supporting.

The film ends at the  Easter Vigil. A tug at the throat to see the congregation receiving the chalice, and not a mask in sight! Let’s pray that we’ll see the return of the former and the discarding of the latter before this year is too old. In the meantime, with all these evenings when we cannot go to the cinema or anywhere else, follow the link above to buy the dvd or rent the film on-line.

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8 July: Reels from home

There’s a lot of it about; nostalgia that is, but we also want to go deeper than that; what has shaped us, or our parents, in the past, how will it work out for our children. What seemed like normal life back then is a source of fascination and indeed joy today, and not just the frocks and hairstyles!

The London Irish Centre has partnered with the Irish Film Institute to bring film heritage to Irish communities in London and across the UK. Under the headings ‘Ireland of Yesterday’, ‘Watch Irish History Unfold’, and ‘Rediscover Television Adverts’, the Reels from Home collection includes materials which date as far back as the early 1900s. It includes both professional and amateur films documenting all aspects of Irish life including tourism, industry, sport, entertainment, and much more.

The films have been selected to engage with the London Irish Centre’s objectives to promote and advance education in Irish art, language, culture and heritage.

Reels From Home contains materials from IFI Player collections including The Bord Fáilte Film Collection, The Irish Adverts Project, The Father Delaney Collection, The Loopline Collection Vol. 1, and The Irish Independence Film Collection.

Speaking about the collection’s release, Gary Dunne, Director of Culture at the London Irish Centre, said: ‘”The London Irish Centre is delighted to partner with the Irish Film Institute on the Reels From Home initiative. For over 65 years, the Centre has been a cultural bridge between London and Ireland, and strategic and programming partnerships like these play a key part in connecting our audiences with high quality Irish culture. The Reels From Home collection is bespoke, dynamic and engaging, and we look forward to sharing it with audiences in the UK through a series of co-watching screenings.”

At a time when many people are spending much of their time indoors due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Reels From Home brings a new channel of content to the Irish community that is free, entertaining, informative, and easy to access and navigate. The project follows in the footsteps of the 2018 Reel Memories initiative, presented by the IFI in partnership with Nursing Homes Ireland, which brought a selection of curated IFI Player material to nursing home residents across the country.

Commenting on the project, Kasandra O’Connell, Head of the IFI Irish Film Archive, added: “We are delighted to be able to bring the collections of the IFI Irish Film Archive to a new audience in the UK , particularly at a time where people may be feeling more isolated than usual. As someone who was born in London to Irish parents, the UK’s Irish community is one that I have been eager for the archive to work with, and partnering with the London Irish Centre gives us a wonderful opportunity to do so.”

Highlights of the collection include Alive Alive O: A Requiem for Dublin, which captures the colourful street traders of Dublin and their fight to maintain their merchant tradition in the face of aggressive economic development;

Ireland in Spring presents a celebration of all things Irish and a delightful window on 1950s Ireland;

and a 1970s advert for Bass ale featuring the legendary band The Dubliners performing in the iconic Dublin bar O’Donoghue’s.

Reels from Home is now available free-to-view on the IFI Player and via the IFI Player suite of apps developed by Irish tech company Axonista. More details will be on the London Irish Centre.

London Irish Centre

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January 7: Body and Soul at Table

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This post is an extract from the article in the Hedgehog Review, Fall 2019, by Wilfred M. McClay and an invitation to follow the link and read the whole thing! As he suggests, food is a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of how we transcend it. Did you know that Babette’s Feast is a favourite film of Pope Francis?

We are animals too, with animal needs and animal limitations just like those of our dogs and cats and squirrels and horses and all the rest, creatures great and small. For us, as for all of them—all of organic life, for that matter—the perpetuation of life requires at every moment a steady flow of nutrition, which we derive from our taking into ourselves the lives of plants and animals and metabolizing them, then eliminating what is left over from that process. Not to put too fine a point on it, we kill and appropriate and eliminate. We are guilty from the start, in a sense, of valuing our own life more highly than the lives of other living things. That is, in a sense, the original sin of all living beings, the sin entailed in merely existing at all—a thought that would never occur to us, were we nothing but animals.

But food is not only a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of the ways we transcend our animality. Just as we are not souls without bodies, so we are not bodies without souls. The two are distinguishable but inseparable. Unlike the other animals, we are not content to take our food as it comes to us. We don’t do a lot of desperate bone-gnawing. Instead, we do a lot of work on our food, and it gains value from the infusion of all our loving labour.

Post-Christmas is a good time to reflect on our eating and our food preparation, the love that stirs the spoon, the shared table and the love that flows from it; the Shared Table of the Eucharist which transcends all meals. Do go and read it.

A family feast of fisn and chips after a morning’s walking in the hills.

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November 7: Sacrifice in War II.

 

 

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Saint Helen’s, Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire, MMB.

Neither war comics, nor 1950s films nor computer games could remotely be described as subtle: the enemy does not appear as a fellow human being. The Great War poet Wilfred Owen’s dawning realisation of the humanity of his visitant in ‘Strange Meeting’ illustrates the dehumanising of the other that allows industrial slaughter to proceed.  It is not clear whether his loathly opposite, the man he had recently killed was a German, or perhaps his own true self:

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.[1]

That ‘slaughter’ should be personified as the subject of a sentence shows how war de-personalises, de-humanises people. War, conflict and death are seen as a conjunction of irresistible, superhuman powers, sweeping away combatant and civilian alike, powers that were indeed personified by the ancients, like John’s four horsemen (Revelation 6), or in Shakespeare’s play:

… Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,

With Atë by his side come hot from Hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war …  Julius Caesar III.i. 270-273.

While War and Death are personified, the enemy is depersonalised; he can then be sacrificed to Atë and Mammon and all false gods of War.

MMB.

[1]              Wilfred Owen, ‘Strange Meeting’ in ‘Poems’, Ed. Siegfried  Sassoon, 1920. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Poems, by Wilfred Owen, Produced by Alan R. Light, Gary M. Johnson, and David Widger, [EBook #1034] Release Date: August 10, 2008.

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6 November 2016: Sacrifice in War I.

 

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Fallen Willow, Chichester; NAIB

It puzzled my ten year old self why Dad would not allow war comics into the house, but Robert Fisk’s army officer father did likewise.

Fisk, a war correspondent, now sees the wisdom of this and wonders if the stereotypes evident in such comics have affected today’s military dictators and juntas.[1] Cartoons might seem too crude to influence attitudes to war or foreigners, but my scepticism was shaken listening to two mothers of teenage sons. The boys watch ‘all the old war films’ and play sniper computer games. One remarked to me in all seriousness that ‘everybody hates the Germans’; no shades of opinion for him.

The mothers are concerned that their sons want to join the army ‘to kill a few Afghans’, when, as one put it, ‘he should be aiming to fight to make the world a better place’. Her comments point what makes industrial war possible: the dehumanising of the enemy and the individual soldier’s risking his life. The latter could be described as self-sacrifice; the former identifies the dehumanised enemy as a sacrificial victim.

What sacrifices have been offered in modern industrial war and to what deities?

MMB.

[1]           Robert Fisk, ‘Battlefield Stereotypes that were Fed to Young Minds’ in The Independent, 28/8/2010

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21 September: Intergalactic Discoveries, IX: California Dreamin’.

 

August 10 came, and with it a beach barbecue. Mrs Fox and the Chihuahuax were there, of course. Ajax worried that in Cornwall it would all be sardines and shellfish, but Larry the chef knew his market and was flipping burgers and bangers on one grill, seafood on the other. Mrs Fox made sure they had a burger and a banger to share, served on shiny new dishes that would keep their food free from sand. A gesture the boys appreciated, as they still preserved some of the daintiness of Ossyrian dining etiquette and loathed the feel of grit on their teeth and tongues.

The Doom Bar and cabernet flowed ever more freely once all had eaten. Ajax and Alfie sidled away behind a dune. Together they emptied their minds and waited for T to contact them. They could only receive T intermittently, as the meteorites that provided distraction for the watchers of the night also interfered with their own thought beams.

T had had a frustrating time. He hawked his neatly typed manifesto for the Ossyrian-Earthling Friendship Pact around the studios but those that let him past the reception desk took him for a would-be script writer and asked to see a fuller treatment of the theme. Hengecliffe Artists arranged a discussion with one of their writers, but after half an hour of his vision of the US Cavalry being zapped by the Ossyrian Gubernatorial Guards, T got up to go. These seemed no point in trying to harness Hollywood. T could take no more.

‘We know how Margate works’, he told Ajax and Alfie. ‘Let’s return to our upstairs room and wait for reinforcements, or another flight home.’

‘What are you waiting for?’ protested Ajax, ‘You’re surfing USA, sucking ice-creams, sipping cold beer… get on that plane!’

‘I can’t go till my booked flight leaves, and don’t forget I hear regularly from Mrs Fox, my friends. You are not doing too badly; ice-cream and doggy treats if not cold beer. It’s a dog’s life, as they say in England. And next week you have a special treat…’

At this point the meteorite shower combined with the midnight barking to white-noise T from the air waves. What was going to happen next week?

WT.

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* Thursday 4th February: Every Journey a Pilgrimage

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Photograph by Eleanor Billingsley, October 2015

 

Coming home to Canterbury is to come to a place of pilgrimage, though I don’t usually give that a thought, unless I am coming down Saint Thomas’ Hill from the University and see the Cathedral rising above the town.

Eleanor’s almost monochrome picture reminds me of the opening of the 1944 Powell and Pressburger film, ‘A Canterbury Tale’. We stand on holy ground where pilgrims have come for more than 800 years, most of us with mixed motives. In the film the mediaeval pilgrims with their hawk give way to a Spitfire and an armoured car, for Britain is at War. Yet there is an element of pilgrimage for all the protagonists who gather in the city because of the conflict.

While I don’t suggest a special outing to the subway at Herne Bay station, we can make a pilgrimage of any journey. Bishop Langton Fox told me that his journeys through Wales allowed him to fast – he ate slimmers’ biscuits as he drove – and pray the rosary, and as he was almost always going to a church, I guess he was always a pilgrim.

As are we all, and like the disciples going to Emmaus, we have the best of companions, who has better bread than slimmers’ biscuits to set before us. Let no discouragement make us once relent our first avowed intent – even if it gets mixed with other intentions more often than not.

MMB.

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29/12 Saint Thomas Becket

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December 29: Feast of Thomas Becket

The idea that a middle class kid from Cheapside can grow up to become the Archbishop of Canterbury is somehow appealing. But there is more there than meets the eye. The blood of the conquerors (not so distant past in his lifetime) flowed in Becket’s veins and, though his parents weren’t exactly rich, they were, ah, quite comfortable (thank you) and pretty well connected. Young Becket learned to ride and hawk down in Surrey (something I have always wanted to do but was never invited…), got a really decent education, and was pretty well ear-marked as a ‘mover and shaker’ by the time he hit his stride.

I remember as a kid watching the old Hal Wallace film and completely missing the point. The Archbishop (played by Richard Burton) was certainly praiseworthy, but failed to really inspire a ten year old. Henry II (played by Peter O’Toole) seemed to get all of the best lines- a favorite; ‘Don’t be tiresome, Thomas…’ (they were both after the same woman), and my favorite character by far was the boisterous young Saxon monk/patriot who, in the final climactic scene, tried to use a processional cross as a bludgeon in his attempt to save St Thomas from the murderous knights. But I had a thing for knights and castles in those days. My younger brother whiled away the hours with his plastic WW II soldiers, while I oversaw battles from the ramparts of a Styrofoam castle that my dad made for me one Christmas; the king safely on his throne, guarded by a host of lead warriors, banners always waving…

What ten year old knows much about conversion? Some, perhaps, but I wasn’t one of them.

Later, I (along with the rest of the world) witnessed another martyrdom, a different Archbishop on the far side of Thomas Becket’s world, laid his life down in a spray of bullet-riddled violence. Some things never change. In a flash (I wasn’t a kid anymore) I realized what carpe diem really meant. Thomas of Canterbury and Oscar of San Salvador had both known privilege and preferment. Both had also had their hearts broken by Divine Love so that, like Augustine before them, they could finally love in return…and do what they had always wanted to do. Each man became a champion of the poor, God’s little ones, both lovers of what was simply right. Choosing to live in the light of that day takes a lot of courage and there is always a price to be paid…or, might one say, a greater gift to be given?

TJH

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Canterbury from the North. Thomas’s Shrine was at the West, (Left hand) end of the Cathedral. ESB

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A History of the First World War in a Hundred Objects

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A History of the First World War in a Hundred Objects

John Hughes-Wilson, IWM Consultant Nigel Steel
London, Cassell, in Association with the Imperial War Museums 2014

Films and books can often hold the reader at an emotional distance from the human experience of war. Or we can take to heart how the old men ‘killed their sons and half the seed of Europe, one by one’ to paraphrase Wilfred Owen, only to hear some historian disdaining ‘the poets’ war’. Such scholars seem more concerned with strategy and statistics than the experience of soldiers and civilians across Europe.

John Hughes-Wilson has given us two books in one: a picture book of artefacts, precious relics, of the time with a commentary on each one to bring home the human experience, and an account of events over the four years and more that the Great War held sway over Europe. Each strand is moving as well as scholarly.

The first temptation is to skim the pages, alighting on a striking picture and reading about it, such as: No 17, a button given to Cpl Eric Rowden by Werner Keil, a German soldier he met during the Christmas Truce of 1814; No 27, A Lusitania Survivor’s Camisole, forever stained with oil from the surface of the sea; No 52, the football kicked by Lt Billie Nevill as he led his men over the top at the Somme in 1916, to die within the first few yards of the advance; No 78 A Hanukkah Lamp from Jerusalem.

Then after reading the brown print about the picture, the layout invites the reader to explore the topic it represents. Thus we learn of the U-boat peril and how the sinking of liners like the Lusitania led Germany to fear American reprisals and so cease attacking passenger liners; how lack of communications led to lack of co-ordination in battles where inspired leadership alone was no guarantee of victory; how this truly became a global war, not only in the Middle East but also in Africa and off the coast of South America.

More poignant topics are not avoided: the inept handling of the Irish Question and the Easter Rising (02, 13, 64); the work of chaplains (58); the sheer numbers of dead bodies in some very confined areas (59); the execution of deserters (75).

Hughes-Wilson looks beyond the battlefields, to cover the causes of the War, the blunders as well as the deliberate steps that led up to it. The Home Fronts are not forgotten, and the effects of the War on the future of Europe; new nations, memories and memorials, the permanently wounded, a great realisation of loss (95-100).

Each of the 100 chapters of this book could move as well as inform the reader. No doubt in a hundred years’ time our grandchildren will be saying, ‘never again’. This book will help them, like us, realise just how terrible war is, and how awesome the responsibility to be peacemakers.

With more than 400 pages of illustrated text this book is a bargain at £30 in hardback. It should be in every secondary school library, helping to breathe life into History. If every military recruit were to read it, would they become less docile, more prepared to question their role and their military duty in any operation? And would that be a bad thing? Were the generals right to suppress the Christmas Truces? Are such fraternisations at all possible now, when killer drones are commanded from thousands of miles away? Are we brothers and sisters under the skin? Let this book remind you that we are.

MMB.

This review was first published on the Independent Catholic News Website.

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