Video Clips

Blog April 2008

US drama series Lost returned last night with a bang. Those following the series regularly will not have been disappointed. I've written before about the religious themes in Lost (click here for article), and have used various clips in my classes on religious themes in TV drama (here). However the religious themes have not surfaced lately, and though the story is still intriguing and absorbing, it has become more violent. Most of the characters are very flawed human beings and it's getting harder to empathise with them, as they show little moral insight.
Much of the time Jack has been something of a moral character, but lately we've seen him trying to kill Locke in a temper, and commiting calculated perjury in court - in one of the flash-forward scenes (a brave an innovative move in the show which relied so much on flasbacks until this series). In fact many of the main characters are murderers, and some aren't showing much regret or need of redemption. I think the purgatory theme is well and truly ditched, especially as some of the flash-forwards show the characters off the island and still seriously messed up.
Some of my students are still watching it, and I even heard one muttered reference to it today when the issue of Purgatory came up.

Críostaíocht is a new programme on TG 4 Wednesday nights. The series started with a look at the flesh and blood nature of Christianity, as shown in various practices and especially in classical art. Actually, there was too much blood for my liking! We got too many close ups of enthusiastic young men in the Philippines getting actually nailed to crosses and beating themselves to the point of bloodletting with whips, and of paintings where the artists put huge effort to capture pain and suffering, especially of the Christ figures and miscellaneous martyrs. The artists strove to move us emotionally by the careful depiction of suffering, but also to flex their artistic muscles with flair and abandon. Presenter Christy Kenneally seemed well disposed to Christianity, but used rather emotive language, especially at the start. There was talk of Christianity being "fixated on flesh, blood and physical suffering", seemingly "obsessed with the darkness of death", "illustrated with nightmares of torture" amounting to "a horrific hymn of praise to pain".
There's much more to it than that of course, but I suppose it's worth asking why there has been so much emphasis on suffering. Was this mainly the Church, the artists or the believers? And so we got a tour of Christian history that took in the Council of Nicea which confirmed the true humanity of Jesus (as well as the divinity!) leading to more of a focus on his physical life, including the suffering. There was also a focus on the Eucharistic presence of Christ's body, but nothing on John Paul II's theology of the body, which would have made a useful addition to the programme.
With the overdose of blood and suffering I doubt if I'll be using it in my teaching.

I was prompted to some spiritual reflections when watching a recent edition of Around the World in 80 Gardens, just finished it's run on BBC 2, Sunday nights. Presenter Monty Don enthused about some amazing Renaissance gardens in Italy, especially Tivoli (left), gardens that were designed for some Cardinals. One was hugely ambitious and aspired to the Papacy though he never reached that goal. So, I wondered what were cardinals doing with such opulence and exuding such vanity, why weren't they out proclaiming the gospel with more humility? I know this was from a period in the Church's history that doesn't exactly fill us with pride, but it's still hard to comprehend how the gospel message got so derailed.
Yet, looking at the programme, there was no denying the stunning beauty of these elaborate gardens. Without the patronage of these "princes" of the Church we might never have received such a heritage, and of course the same point could be made about all the great artwork that was produced at the behest of other popes and cardinals.
So I suppose we'll just live with such ironies, where vanity and power can produce beauty that inspires others to greater things. And there's even more mileage in the issue of how beauty can go on to deceive and distract. The writer of Psalm 30:31 was aware of the issue ("Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain") as was Yeats when he wrote Prayer for My Daughter (full text here) - "May she be granted beauty and yet not /Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught, /Or hers before a looking-glass". The gardens were undeniably beautiful, and most impressive of all were the water features - huge waterfalls and fountains of all shapes sizes and themes, monumental feats of art and engineering. I particularly like the massive stone dining table, about 50 feet long, with a small canal running up the middle of it to keep food and drink cooled, and another little stream at the foot of it where you could cool your toes! I wonder if those cardinals, as they dined alfresco ever wondered if they had strayed too far from the Last Supper?

I’ve been following 7th Heaven on RTE Sunday afternoons since it returned for a new series (11th I think). I have to admire a show with such staying power, even praying power, and have enjoyed watching the child characters grow up with, and sometimes grow away from, the show. But of late it’s getting incredibly corny and cringe inducing. About the only thing worth watching for at this stage is the mostly dignified and often touching performance of Stephen Collins as Rev Eric Camden, the minister with a heart of gold, whose life is now threatened by an enlarged heart. But for a recent episode he donned a kilt, in public, more embarrassing for the viewer than for him. And I must confess the remaining children in the show are becoming increasingly irritating. As for Happy the dog ….. grrrrr
Yesterday’s episode sought to highlight the humanitarian situation in Darfur, fair enough in itself, but the scriptwriters don’t do subtle. I have to confess I was getting sick of Darfur by the end of the show as they laid on the message with a heavy trowel. Than, in case we hadn’t got the message already, the show ended with a prolonged photomontage of scenes from Darfur. Also there seemed to be a political edge to the show – it was stressed over and over that the USA was doing great things about Darfur, including being the prime movers in declaring what was happening there to be genocide.
Still, I've used several clips from the show in school over the years, including some where the characters pray - you don't see too much of that in TV drama.

On Friday last I started on what will probably be the final module of my religion and arts programme with Transition Year students (c 15 year olds) - religious themes in poetry.
I started with the Leaving Cert course material these students will probably meet next year in 5th year. The course for Leaving Cert 2010 is available at the SLSS website. Knowing it's for Leaving Cert gives the students a little extra interest - religious poetry not being such an attractive proposition to them. But I think it went will, with quite a bit of interaction, helped by the fact that nearly half class were gone on work experience to the army!
First up was poetry on the Ordinary level course. We started with Milton's On His Blindness (text here) which was useful to discuss images of God, poetry as a way of serving God, the parable of the talents and more. Next was Vaughn's poem Peace (text here) with it's unusual military imagery, suggesting the security of Heaven. We discussed the very different image of God in this poem, the idea of the battle against evil, even how The Legion of Mary uses the Roman military terminology for its organisational structure. Last of all we looked at A Christmas Childhood (text here) by Patrick Kavanagh, rather unseasonable, but useful for discussion of innocence and childhood memories. One student remembered a special Winnie the Pooh teddy from a past Christmas! Next week it will be the Higher level poetry and then some modern performance poetry with religious themes. For more see my article The Search for Meaning in Poetry

As promised I’ll outline some classwork I did recently with Transition Year students (c 15 year old boys) on religious themes in TV drama. I’ve built up a collection of clips over the years, most still on video but I’m hoping to transfer them to DVD soon. I always like to add new material and this year I used some clips from Prison Break (Scofield’s confession box scene) and Lost (this time I used the scene where Desmond, who was training to be a monk, was “fired” by his genial but firm superior who concluded that life held something else in store for Desmond apart from the monastery). I used the scene from BBC’s Manchester Passion where Judas sings Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. Old faithfuls included scenes from Ballykissangel (they like the scene where the guard Ambrose, announces to his fiancée that he wants to become a priest) and its US imitator Paradise Island; a confession box scene from the X-Files (with a new X-Files movie due this summer this show will become more familiar); a scene from cop show The District where the boss tells a young cop-in-crisis that he can do God’s work by catching criminals.
On the animation front I use some Simpsons clips, (conscious that not all Simpsons episodes are respectful to religion) especially the latter half of the episode where Homer makes up his own religion and chats to God (left) after his house burns down. Always hilarious no matter how many times I see it, and always popular with the students. From God, the Devil and Bob I use the scene from Episode 1 where God meets Bob for the first time. There are plenty of clips from this series on YouTube.
This year after Easter I also included some clips from BBC’s The Passion shown over Holy Week – in particular I showed the Resurrection sequence as I thought this was cleverly done and also was topical just after the Easter holidays. Earlier in the previous term we had studied other film versions of the life of Jesus so this made for an interesting contrast. Reactions were generally positive but quite a few found the remote location of the tomb in the desert rather odd. There were divergent views on whether different actors should have been used for Jesus to convey the Bible’s indication that for some reason they didn’t recognise him at first. Some didn’t like what they saw as Mary Magdalen’s over reaction at the tomb. The Bible says she cried, but here she screamed and threw stones around. One student commented that this version showed that “special effects don’t always have to be used to create an amazing movie”.

Previous Blogs:
March 2008
; Feb 2008; Jan 2008; Dec 2007;
Nov 2007; Oct 2007; Sept 2007; June-August 2007; May 2007; April 2007 March 2007; Feb 2007; Jan 2007; Dec 2006; Nov 2006; Oct 2006; Sept 2006; June 2006; May 2006