Video Clips

Blog July 2009

On last Sunday's episode of Joe Duffy's Spirit Level on RTE 1 Helen Toner of the recent Knock Youth Festival reckoned that music was very effective at engaging young people, and sure enough there was some quality Christian rock on the show (a genre underexposed in the Irish media) - from the North of Ireland there was a video of the Rend Collective Experiment (the song was more accessible than the name!), and in the studio we got another soulful gospel song from Padraig Rushe (pictured above) - a former Dublin Gospel Choir singer who has a promising solo recording career - check him out on My Space.
It wasn't just the musical arts that figured on the programme. The recent Icons in Transformation exhibition in Christchurch was really unusual, and not just because the Protestant Church, according to Joe Duffy, was traditionally suspicious of religious images. The work of Ludmilla Pawlowska of the Eastern Orthodox Church was a combination of traditional icons and modern works inspired by them. It was striking how much the human eye figured prominently in the modern works, and how the colours were just as vibrant as in the traditional counterparts, but in a very different way.
Last Thursday Cajun group L'Angelus played a superb live set for Today With Pat Kenny on RTE Radio 1, which included a beautiful rendition of Be Thou My Vision. While they play many "secular" gigs their Catholic faith is important to them and to the whole Cajun culture. In their Irish tour they have been playing for the Catholic Underground, an innovative group that combines prayer and the arts, an initiative described enthusiastically on the show by Fr Sylvester of the Friars of the Renewal in Moyross. On the strength of that show I've just bought their album Sacred Hymns Collection and will review it here shortly.

Kings: Episode 3 (Shown on RTE 2 last Thurs). Episode 3 moved at a slower pace than usual and had a very different mood. The King's son Jack took young David on a sleazy night out in the city, but despite Jack's best efforts he kept his virtue (though there are photos that falsely suggest otherwise) - he still seems smitten by the King's daughter. We learn that the King's wife has been the architect of the kingdom and it's royal family ("we are the performance" she says as the great and good of Shiloh come to a ballet), a kingdom that she has moulded from when it was just a place of warring tribes, and she'll be as manipulative as it takes to keep it that way.
Since his alienation from God King Silas complains "My plans are frustrated", and he returns to God and Rev Samuels for help when his love child gets seriously ill leading to some interesting exchanges about what God wants by way of sacrifice - he accidentally knock's over a deer and wonders if that will do! The Biblical flavour is present, and not just in the storyline - King Silas's love child is called Seth, in the Bible one of Adam and Eve's sons; there's talk of David's star "shining bright"; talk of an alternative sacrificial lamb; and when a sponsor wants to pay ten times more for a seat beside David than for a seat beside the king, the Queen feels the sense of threat - "David commands his 100,000, the King commands his 10,000".
The next episode promises to be more political as resentment is brewing over Silas giving away some Gilboan territory to seal a peace treaty with Gath. Rev Samuels disapproves as part of the deal with God (covenant?) seems to be "undivided lands, as promised", perhaps a suggestion of present day issues in the Middle East as well as in Biblical times. You could even see and Irish political reference in that, though somehow I doubt it was intended!


The only thing disappointing about Episode 2 of Kings (the Old Testament modernisation on RTE 2 Thursday nights) was the fact that it was only 40 minutes or so in length - the pilot had obviously been a double episode. Though settling into series mode the quality remained as high.
Plot wise, David continues to serve King Silas in the city of Shiloh, not realising that Silas plans to have him assassinated as he considers him a threat. David's character (sympathetically played by Christopher Egan) is appealing - though he can be naive, he is gentle and idealistic, and in most cases is diplomatic, always finding the right word to say in awkward situations. The Biblical King David's interest in music is reflected in David's interest in playing the piano. In this episode he takes drastic action to save the peace treaty with Gath, without which he reckons his brother's death will have been pointless. In this episode there's a strong emphasis on a sense of destiny for David. His mother Jesse feels this and wants him home because he thinks it will be dangerous. Silas feels it, feels threatened and wants him dead. David himself wants to follow the signs given to him. He gets some very strong "Don't go" messages, including one dramatic scene where he apparently dreams that Silas is calling out "Don't go" to God in the Heavens. His dead brother appears with the same message, but it takes David a while to figure out how he should apply it.
Rev Samuels doesn't figure so much this time, and Silas believes he can manage without his benediction. The political shenanigans continue in the kingdom as the King's brother in law tries to ruin him by withdrawing gold from the treasury, while welcome comic relief is developed through two of the temple guards who have to clear some birds (pigeons or possibly doves) out of the palace. The birds have a symbolic role interfering in the assassination plot on David in the dramatic conclusion. There is excellent background material on Matt Page's Bible Films Blog, while the official website for the series features some useful material, though the clips and full episodes are for US viewers only.

I watched the first episode of Kings again last night (see entry for 12/7) and found it useful to have a second viewing. Since then I've also done some revision on the Old Testament stories on which this modernisation is based. I'm still positive about the show - it's visually appealing and intelligently scripted. The Biblical parallels are fairly clear - King Silas (a great performance from Ian McShane) is Saul, Rev Samuels is the prophet Samuel, the kingdom of Gath (with their Goliath tanks!) is presumably the Philistines (in the Bible Gath was one of the royal cities of the Phillistines). Jesse is David's mother rather than his father as in the Bible. Apart from such clear references there is an "Old Testament flavour" permeating the show - e.g. in the names of other characters and places - Eli (David's brother), Benjamin (the surname of the royal family), Shiloh (King Silas' new city, and in the Bible an important city for the people of Israel), Gilboa (Silas' kingdom in the show, but a mountain where King Saul was killed in battle in the Bible). You could even detect a New Testament element - in one emotional scene when David offers his blood to Gath people in order to make peace, the sense of self sacrifice was reminiscent of Jesus' own sacrifice. And I was further reminded of the American political background with the reference to "the Vineyard" - seemed to be a summer palace for the king, reminiscent of Martha's Vineyard in USA, which had links with US politicians including the Clintons.
Review of episode 2 to follow soon.

The Message Behind the Movie
by Douglas M Beaumont is a new book about "how to engage with a film without disengaging your faith". Beaumont, who teaches Bible and philosophy at the Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina USA, has a work that is really three books in one. At times it's a work of Christian apologetics from a Protestant perspective (in fact the Protestant sensibility is evident many times). I particularly liked his outline of how reasonable it is to believe in God and can see myself using some of that material in school. Secondly there's an ongoing piece of fiction running through the book as some young adults talk about faith using various films as starting points. I found this the weakest point in the book as it's not compelling fiction, and more distracts from than illustrates the points the author is making. The treatment of faith and films is the core of the book, and what is said is thought provoking, though I'd like to see a more in-depth in approach. The films used as examples are right up to date, and it's good for a change to find a book considering the moral implications of films, not just their artistic merit. Particularly useful is the point that even if we consider a film harmless because it mightn't have an adult rating, it's important also to consider the values being imparted even if the content seems innocuous enough. The book also has the feel of a manual, aimed perhaps at the education market - the exposition is straightforward and there are "Reflection Questions" at the end of each section. Further, there's a very detailed reference section at the end which contains lots of interesting side comments.

Kings is a new American drama series that started on RTE 2 last Thursday night and it certainly is different. It's a modernisation of the story of the kings in the Old Testament, with David being a central character.
The setting seems vaguely American, present day, but the leader is a king, King Silas. He presides over a powerful kingdom and as the story starts dedicates the new city of Shiloh, an urban landscape not unlike New York. He's at war with the neighbouring kingdom of Gath a conflict that provides a background of political intrigue. Silas is convinced that he has God's approval, symbolised by a mystical experience with butterflies, and has been anointed to his role by the mysterious Rev Samuels. He is quite upfront about declaring this despite the unease of his political advisors ("God isn't popular at the moment"). However he is no paragon of virtue, not averse to bumping off political opponents, and having a mistress on the side despite his loving family and finally Rev Samuels tells him he has lost God's favour and protection because he agreed to a treacherous war at the behest of a ruthless businessman to whom he is beholden. David appears as a David Shepherd (clever!), a country boy who has risen to prominence in the war because he saved the king's son Jack (does every series have to have a Jack?), and in the process knocked out a tank called Goliath!
Earlier Rev Samuels had met him and in wiping a car oil smudge off his face seemed to anoint him for great things in the future. By the end of this episode David is visited by the butterflies while Silas looks on ruefully, while the shadowy businessman is plotting to put the pliable, grumpy and secretly gay Jack on the throne - in a modern nod to political correctness Silas tells him that if he lives his life "as God made him" he won't be fit for the throne. The programmer works on a least three levels - firstly it's a reasonably good political thriller, featuring all the usual conniving, with some of the clichés of the genre balanced by many imaginative touches. Secondly it could be viewed as a political allegory - a way of teasing out the political power issues of modern America - the war scenes for example take place in a desert where the visual imagery is suggestive of Afghanistan or Iraq. And thirdly of course there's the obvious Biblical parallel - I watched it before I revised my Old Testament so I could judge that it stood on its own as a good story, but these Biblical references make it fascinating, adding that extra layer that makes it stand out. So far I find it respectful to religion. Of course you'd squirm at the idea of a modern despot (even if he's benign at times) claiming divine approval, but Rev Samuels provides a moral grounding in his role as prophet or conscience - "don't pretend I don't know" he says to Silas on several occasions.
This show has been running for some time in the USA where it has met with mixed fortunes - it started out in prime time but has since been bumped to a less prominent slot, though not as bad as what RTE has done with it - virtually ensuring obscurity by plonking it after midnight.
As regards using it in school, I'll certainly be adding clips when I do religious themes in drama with Transition Year, but there are many useful clips for other topics, especially those encounters with Rev Samuel - could be useful for classes on conscience, on anointing in the sacraments, on church-state relations, relevance of bible stories for modern times and more.

I'm surprised and delighted to see so many events/initiatives this summer in the faith/arts area. Check out the news page for full details, but there's the Quilty Artists, a new group for those interested in this area, a summer conference, on the Image of God, in Glenstal Abbey, organised by the International Society of Christian Artists, an exhibition of Icons in Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, a songwriting competition for the Year of Evangelisation in Dublin diocese, and quite a few interesting events in the National Concert Hall Dublin, including the intriguing Rosary for Solo Piano!

Hollywood actor and Oscar winner Karl Malden died yesterday at the age of 97. One of his most famous roles was as the priest Fr Barry in On the Waterfront (1954). The clip on the left shows him speaking out against mob corruption, and makes for a great classroom resource on many topics from justice to the religion in film.