Video Clips
Blog Entries April-June 2011

Yesterday I got to the Art/Faith Forum Conference in Dublin - plenty of thought provoking ideas there, not to mention quite a few artists and poets. The conference title was "The Baptised Imagination" and the whole idea of the religious imagination was central to the event. Main speaker in the morning was Fr Michael Paul Gallagher SJ who has written many books about the interface of faith and culture. It was a deep and complex talk and I'll try to get hold of the text for more in-depth reflection. He quoted Cardinal Newan's comments "The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination" (find the context of this observation here). Colette Clarke gave a presentation on the art of iconography and displayed several appealing examples of the genre, and flagged the work of the Association of Iconographers of Ireland (more info here). In the afternoon there was another interesting talk, this time from Gregory Wolfe an American author and editor of "Image - a Journal of the Arts and Religion".

I've been a fan of Jennifer Warnes for years - the first album of hers I bought was just titled "Jennifer Warnes" and among other great songs she sang Oh God of Loveliness (clip on left). Her most famous album is "Famous Blue Raincoat" when she recorded some of the songs of Leonard Cohen, and some she co-wrote with him. This album included the beautiful Song of Bernadette (see video page) and Joan of Arc. She has also recorded some traditional Christmas songs which featured on a Hallmark Christmas album some years ago. Her most recent album is The Well and one could certainly find some Biblical imagery in the title track, though it's not overt and may not even have been intended. A new album is apparently in the works. For a sampler of her work there's always a selection of songs playing on her website

On Sunday last RTE 1 broadcast Mass for the Ascension, live and outdoors from the Claddagh in Galway city. The music was provided by the Tribal Chamber Choir - their selections from Haydn and Handel were excellent but didn't facilitate congregational singing! However the small congregation did join in on Ár nAthair and the recessional Praise My Soul the King of Heaven. You can look back on this programme here and for a while on the RTE Player.

Religious music was also to the fore on Songs of Praise, BBC 1's long running show, which provides a comfortable kind of spirituality. Last Sunday Eamonn Holmes presented the show from Northern Ireland, where Daniel O'Donnell was one of the contributors - he sang a fine acoustic version of "Here I Am Lord", with just guitar accompaniment, while the choir at a Presbyterian church (Hamilton Road, Bangor I think) sang well throughout the programme. I really enjoyed Artist Ross Wilson's few words on C.S. Lewis, and his visually arresting wardrobe sculpture was a fitting tribute to the author - Lewis' letter to a young reader explaining the Christian allegory of his Narnia books was also inscribed on the work.

Later that night BBC 1 Wales carried the first part of The Passion of Port Talbot, an intriguing documentary on a community based passion play in the Welsh town that had suffered over the years from poor development. The initiative was led by local man, Michael Sheen, now a famous actor (he played Tony Blair in The Queen)but it seemed he mainly wanted to tell the story of Port Talbot using the Jesus story as a vehicle, complete with crucifixion scene. At one stage he said this was all he wanted to do, but later when local clergy became uneasy about the direction the play was taking, he did listen and reassure them that it actually was the story of Jesus (in the guise of "The Teacher"), told in a different way. Fascinating theatrically, but I thought it felt somewhat empty spiritually. The performance itself will feature in part 2 this Sunday night.

Finally got to see The Way last night, and I wasn't disappointed. This new film is about a father-son relationship and is set against the background of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. Martin Sheen plays the father, while his son Emilio Estevez plays the son, and also wrote and directed.
It was quite moving, challenging and thought provoking. Gradually we get to know the Sheen character and the motley crew he meets up with. It's a strongly human film, and its empathy with the characters is what makes it involving and touching. The Pilgrimage motif is of course a powerful one - the journey through life, the baggage we carry apart from our backpacks, the varying paths we take, the people we journey with. Estevez uses the motif subtly enough, but may have been worried about critical reaction as he has the Irish writer (played by James Nesbitt) revel in the "metaphor bonanza" and yet wonder if he is being over fanciful - things may be what they seem and no more than that. Perhaps Estevez wishes to distance himself from having an overly religious film - at one stage a minor character says it's not about religion at all, and stresses the point. None of the characters makes an obvious connection with God in any way, yet the film is imbued, in a positive way, with religion, without being heavy handed in any way. The Sheen character prays, though at the beginning he doesn't see the point. In a key scene the woman struggles with prayer. Churches and religious images abound, and there are at least two positive priest characters.
There are some fine set pieces, and such scenes may well be useful in RE, though the full film is probably too long and leisurely for youngsters. Near the start a French policeman explains the nature of the pilgrimage, and later, on the road, the pilgrims discuss the nature of the "true pilgrim" (both clips useful in classes on pilgrimage). For symbolism there's a scene at one point where the tradition is to say a prayer and leave a stone at a particular monument (useful for ritual as well). The scene where they arrive at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostella is really well done, and really captures a sense of awe and wonder. Among the interesting conversations on the road, one has a subtle pro-life message as a woman wonders about her unborn baby. Some elements raise questions of suitability for young viewers - in particular there's an ambiguous attitude to soft drugs, but I think it will give mature viewers a warm glow. Many films deal with journeys (physical and metaphorical) of self discovery but The Way has carved out a distinctive little niche of its own.

In the last few days I've been showing parts of the film Sophie Scholl, The Final Days, with 3rd Year students. (Sophie Scholl was a real life character who campaigned against the Nazis in Germany - she was arrested for leafletting). It fits in really well with the morality element of the course. I even used the clip on left as past of my assessment with the TY students. This clip is the final interrogation of Sophie, and the script is based on transcripts of the original interrogation. One could get several classes out of this ten-minute clip - issues raised include conscience, the state and religion, empathy, world view, persecution of the Jews and the mentally ill, and God. Sophie is a great role model for young people, but even the interrogator is an interesting character. I was glad to see the third years absorbed by this, as there's a lot of talk, and it's subtitled.

We had a visit from the Diocesan Advisor earlier this week for presentation of certificates from the Diocese in recognition for the students' work in RE during the year. We've opted for this scheme for the last few years and I think it's a great way to give some positive feedback to the students. Some of them spoke enthusiastically about their work, some did not! As part of the course students were required to produced a work of art with religious themes, and some displayed their wares on the day. The results varied.... There were a few hurried drawings, a few interesting poems, a visual presentaion on the moving statues phenomenon of the 80's and some music. Looking back on the year most had positive memories of their retreat with Net Ministries and the concert with John Angotti back in September. Tomorrow is the start of their RE assessment - questions on a poem (I've chosen Love by George Herbert) and a song that I'll play for them (on CD I hasten to add)- God Bless the Artists by the Roches (see clip above left), an appropriate end to a module on religion and the arts.

Will hopefully be on Spirit Radio this coming Monday around 10.25 or so. Should have been last Monday but technical hitches got in the way. This week I hope to be reviewing the newly released film The Way starring Martin Sheen.

Was doing the Edmund Rice story just after Easter (May 5th is his day) and got a lot of mileage out of artist Desmond Kyne's wonderful Icon of Edmund Rice. We have a copy in the school hall, but the folks at ERST produced a special Powerpoint version that takes students through all the panels of the icon.

Among other resources when doing the Resurrection I used this year for the first time the Resurrection scene (see clip from this on left) at the end of The Miracle Maker, the beautifully animated version of the life of Jesus. Apart from a few giggles at Mary Magdalen's very emotional reactions (I teach boys) it seemed to hold the attention. Several clips from this film can be viewed (and downloaded if you subscribe to the free account or higher) on the relevant Wingclips page. I also got students drawing their own Resurrection scenes - some interesting images resulted, many having Jesus exclaiming "I'm back!"

Last Saturday night in the National Concert Hall I got to see The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace, a striking work by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. I had seen it before in Cork, but this time Jenkins himself conducted and it was accompanied by film clips to illustrate its powerful message of peace amidst all the war and militarism, mostly of the 20th Century. The orchestra and choirs were great, but I found myself mostly absorbed by the film clips - quite a saddening panorama of our times, but after all the menace and violence the piece certainly ends on a calming, peaceful and hopeful note. This performance will be repeated in the University of Limerick on Sunday 8th May. One of the movements is the Benedictus, and the clip on left gives a flavour of the experience though it's not from Saturday's performance.

Just came across an intriguing article, where Jennifer Fulwiler, a blogger and Catholic convert, list her ten favourite Rap songs. The title of the article caught my eye - "Top 10 Rap Songs for Catholics "! Rap is not one of my favourite music genres but every class we teach has probably got a few rap fans (and probably a few who can't stand it!). I remember having one student who was constantly referencing Tupac, and I notice that one of his songs is on the list. This kind of music often gets a bad rap (!) for bad language and violent lyrics, but Fulwiler has navigated her way to what seems likes some interesting material. Click here to read the article.

On Tuesday night last I headed up to Tobar Mhuire, the Passionist Monastery in Crossgar Co. Down to hear a L'Angelus concert. Unfortunately the band didn't do any gigs down south during this mini-tour (back in July, and doing World Youth Day in August)), but it was certainly worth the trip up north. As usual the band gave a great show, and their new songs were well up to standard. The old standards were on the setlist too, and along with the good-time Cajun songs they performed some of their sacred repertoire - including Be Thou My Vision, Ave Maria, and those beautiful watlzes - The Waltz of St Cecila and The Waltz of the Sorrowful Mysteries. It was an appropriate venue for these songs as it was in the multi purpose room that mainly serves as the church for the Passionist Community in Crossgar. Thanks to Fr John and the other members of the community for the excellent hospitality and the sing song that followed the gig for those staying over.
The monastery also featured a striking Stations of the Cross - figures arranged in the recesses of girders sunk into the courtyard - very effective.
For St Patrick's Day I made up a slide show of images of the saint - now I've a new one to add - the rather modern sculpture of the saint on the way out of Downpatrick - pic above.

While passion plays have a long history, it was inevitable that the movies would eventually tell the story of Jesus. The first feature length version, "From the Manger to the Cross" (1912) was the subject of the documentary First Passion, on TG4 last week. It was intriguing on many levels - there were clips from the movie, and while I would like to have seen more, they were rather melodramatic as usual for silent movies, and it was strange that a film about The Word featured so few words! In a move that was revolutionary for its time they shot the film in the original Holy Land locations. One contributor suggested that this was partly to provide American audiences with a sort of virtual pilgrimage of the area. Robert Henderson-Bland played Jesus and wrote extensively about it. The role had a profound effect on him, some even said it unhinged him, but he went on to become a decorated World War I hero.
As cinema at the time was widely regarded as a gimmick, the venture was regarded as potentially blasphemous by some and efforts were made to diffuse criticism - for example scripture quotes were displayed on screen between some of the scenes. Cinemas were given tips as to how to create a respectful atmosphere - no eating, drinking or laughing! In fact the programme made out that the film had an impact on how cinema audiences in general responded to cinema, as it was longer and more serious than what the average audience was used to. Pre-screenings were given to clergy and posters carried an "endorsed by the clergy" tag - surely the kiss of death for any film today! And this despite the fact that there wasn't a resurrection scene. As regards school use I could see myself using some of this documentary in class - as part of the films and religion module in Transition Year I look at the issues relating to films about Jesus and this certainly a trailblazer of the genre.
At the time of writing the documentary is still available to watch on the TG4 website in three segments - for the first part click here.

Passion in the Pale (RTE 1 last night) was a most absorbing and entertaining programme. The main element was coverage of a passion play performed in the streets of Dublin in 2010. Good to see the passion play tradition getting such a fresh treatment, and good to see the whole process for the actors and director starting with a gospel reading. As often happens with such a venture, some of the actors spoke of being quite moved by taking part. Watching the rehearsals was fascinating, and on performance day the rain added to the sad atmosphere - the tears of wailing women around Jesus blended in particularly well. Another striking touch was the way the cross was sitting on the Last Supper table - effective but unnerving! Running parallel to this was a performance of St Matthew's Passion by Bach in the Pro-Cathedral, with orchestra and several choirs, including loads of youngsters. I'm not sure that the two elements of the film blended or were balanced together that well, but the common passion motif did provide a degree of unity, and all in all film maker Patrick Butler who wrote, edited and produced this work deserves our gratitude and compliments. I can see myself using this, or parts of it at least when I do the drama section of my Religion and Arts module with Transition Year class next year. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available on the RTE Player.

I got to see a preview of new film There Be Dragons, on the Spanish Civil War and the early days of St Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. I'll post a more detailed review nearer the time for its Irish release. Directed by Roland Joffé (The Mission, The Killing Fields), it's quite inspiring, thought-provoking, even poetic at times, with really creative use of imagery. And there are times when it sad, and even unsettling. The most prominent theme is that of forgiveness, and there are many scenes useful for Religious Education - e.g. on forgiveness, Eucharist, Reconciliation (there's a great clandestine confession scene in a zoo!). THE IMDB Entry for the film is here.

Was back on Spirit Radio last Monday - it's now a monthly slot with more time available - 2nd Monday of the month sometime 10.20 to 10.40. Last Monday presenter Ronan Johnston and I discussed Josh Groban's new album Iluminations (pic on left) - some spiritual imagery in there, including in Declan O'Rourke's song "Galileo". I'll post full review of that album shortly. I wasn't much into Groban's music but this album is impressive - excellent production by Rick Rubin, who has worked with a wide range of artists, from Johnny Cash to Slayer!
We also discussed a CD I picked up at the weekend - Laudate features Taizé music recorded in Gort Mhuire in Dublin. - originally it came out on cassette but I hadn't got my own copy, so I was thrilled to find one copy in Veritas Cork last weekend. It's one of the best Taizé albums and I've already used it in class.
I flagged the forthcoming John Michael Talbot album, Worship and Bow Down due out in June (see News page) and was glad that Ronan was familiar with his work, and also a great fan like myself.
I was able to talk about the Emmanuel concert I attended recently, and the Teen SpiriT concerts in Cork and Kerry featured on Nationwide of 6th April (may be available on the RTE Player.
Finally I recommended the new film There Be Dragons - more of that on the blog in a day or two.

Today I got to use my first film clip downloaded from Wingclips - a brilliant web resource where you can watch and download readymade film clips on a huge range of themes. The clip I used (included above) was of the Last Supper from The Miracle Maker. It is animated but done really well. This was available in the free section of the site and though it was supposed to be low quality I was very happy with it - I played it full screen from a data projector. The clip downloaded in a format that Windows Media Player can handle, so it was convenient. We had already used the equivalent sequence from Jesus of Nazareth and the students had been drawing their own Last Supper scenes (heavinly influenced by Leonardo!). There were a few giggles at the animated apostles, but it held the attention.