25 February 2007

Amazing Grace: Really a Real Movie

Hooray! Three cheers, at least, maybe four or five, how about half a dozen, for Amazing Grace! I am amazed! I am very impressed. I loved this film. It’s got great acting (led by the very good-looking Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce), gorgeous costumes, intelligent & catchy & well-paced screenplay (by Steven Knight), delightful & nicely peripheral love story, & all the passion of a man on fire to do good—on fire with the Spirit of God burning him up from the inside out. It’s directed in a lively, sometimes confusing present—flashback—future style by Michael Apted, dancing between powerful public speeches to luscious private moments: the Prime Minister & his best-friend MP racing barefoot through the garden; the beautiful red-headed Barbara Spooner (played by Romola Garai) snorting into her dinner because of a private joke about botany; John Newton (Albert Finney) wearing sackcloth as he mops the stone floor of his very chilly- & Medieval-looking chapel. Suffering is not held at bay; the stench & sweat & death of slavery ripple painfully underneath at all times.

Perhaps Hollywood is finally getting the message that there is an audience for beautiful, lush, challenging, wholesome, edifying films with messages of faith & human rights. Or maybe “we” are finally realizing that when such a movie comes out, “we” should jump to acclaim it, & not hide our heads & whine that it’s got some foul language or a bit of décolletage or not enough gospel, but rather applaud it enthusiastically as an important & artistic film. Because, my friends, that’s what we’ve got here. Amazing Grace is all of that and more. Most importantly: It’s a real movie.

Not some greeting-card sappy feel-good Bible cartoon. A real movie that real people are seeing & reviewing. & it’s a movie you need to see. Go and see it! Now! Don’t even stop to read the rest of this review! Go & see it first, then come back & leave your comments here. This is still the first weekend it’s available in many theatres, & the box office results from this weekend will say a lot to the powers that be about how many more theatres will get it & whether “we” are watching & whether “we” have enough buying power to warrant the production of valuable cinema. Or whether slop & trash & smash will make the big bucks. This is an important film about a great guy, & it does an excellent job of embodying him in his everyday life, in his brilliant Parliamentarian career, & in his historical context. Britain comes to life, as does the multi-faceted question of the abolition of slaves. It doesn’t shy away from the economic complexities that made Wilberforce’s opponents more than straw men. It puts the entire question squarely into the Revolutionary atmosphere of the day, with its fears & its heady freedoms.

It’s not a perfect movie. Although I can’t for the life of me figure out why not. At first I thought it was because the audience never actually comes face-to-face with slavery. All the accounts are second-hand. But then again, that’s how it was for Wilberforce. He never saw the beatings, the starvation, the degradation. He heard about them, he saw the empty ships—& that was enough to move him to action! So that’s not it. I thought maybe it wasn’t a big enough budget—but I don’t see any cut corners. There’s a string quartet playing Hayden, the evolution of wig styles over two decades, crowds in London streets, infuriating debates in a packed Parliament; I don’t feel anything is missing.

So maybe it’s a perfect movie after all. It’s certainly a movie I will watch again, & show my students, & recommend to my friends, & try to incorporate into my life as new passion. Passion for the integration of public & private life, passion for the unity of faith & action, passion for quality of both art & message. Hooray!

Useful links:
Official Movie Site
Articles in World Magazine
Wikipedia biography
BBC History
Interview with the director

13 February 2007

Poetry for St. Valentine's Day; Love Poetry Challenge

A little while ago, Ariel posted a link to a great discussion of contemporary love poetry. It claimed that the stuff that passes for love poetry now-a-days is garbage compared to that which was written in, say The Renaissance.

Here's part of my comment:
I had a 17th. cent. poetry prof. who had a really compelling theory about why there's no good love poetry now. He said that all through the Renaissance, good old Petrarch & Dante & their cronies wrote out of the power & inspiration of frustration, from their unrequited love. Then along came the 17th century, when fat Ben J. & his "Sons" & the "Cavaliers" wrote their poetry of requited -- & consummated -- love. & that, this prof. thought, put an end to all the pent-up energy & poured out a whole lot of love poetry, & then ran out of ideas, ran out of inspiration. & here we are.

But I also agree with several other commenters who think that there's plenty of good love poetry being written right this minute! & my students are learning to do just that, among others.

SO I'd like us to take up the challenge! I charge you to post here, as a comment, an excellent love poem that has been written (by yourself or someone else) in the last 100 years. I'll start, by putting here my favorite by Edna St. Vincent Millay (perhaps the female Petrarch of the 20th century). I'd also love to hear some speculations on why love poetry has died, if it has.

Sonnet xxviii

I pray you if you love me, bear my joy
A little while, or let me weep your tears;
I, too, have seen the quavering Fate destroy
Your destiny's bright spinning--the dull shears
Meeting not neatly, chewing at the thread,--
Nor can you well be less aware how fine,
How staunch as wire, and how unwarranted
Endures the golden fortune that is mine.
I pray you for this day at least, my dear,
Fare by my side, that journey in the sun;
Else must I turn me from the blossoming year
And walk in grief the way that you have gone.
Let us go forth together to the spring;
Love must be this, if it be anything.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

01 February 2007

February poem of the month

This semester I'm teaching an elective course entitled "Poetry Writing in Baroque Forms." Here's a Marvell imitation that emerged from our studies.

A Dialogue between Freedom and Fate
After Andrew Marvell

O, who shall take the blame or praise
For my unfettered choice of ways,
Since I must stand in self-made vices
Forged by uncommanded choice?
The Past was cluttered with all paths
When I was there, but now I cast
My sin-dimmed eyes ahead and find
One single road, uncurving, wide,
Carvéd straight from one set deed:
If only one, how was I free?

O, who shall set me free from me,
From me, who is both chain and key
To lock the future up from ways
And into way; into straight
But deadly footpaths from the blessed
Eternal branching of the past?
If I condemn, in causing ill,
I am condemned; this would seem well
Were my nature free to doom
Or bless—but I am fated, too.

Then whom have I to blame, but you,
Encasing Fate, my bane and doom,
For preordaining me thus free?
If you, before you forged my grief
Had looked along the lines of time—
What will, before, what was, behind—
And seen my frozen, wretched hands
Tied with iron, icy bands,
Would you have set this path for Choice,
Which renders sovereign creatures void?

If I had looked, as you enjoin,
I would have only seen the one
Un-time-bound bar of iron Now.
Look there now. Do you allow
The thing is done, was done, will done;
The agency, determined on;
The predetermination, picked;
For cosmic subcreators’ wish
In an eternity unverbed,
Unverbable, and beyond words?
The timeless loosed my destiny
And bound you to your agency:
The known and unknown balancing
In either hand of little men.

~ Sørina

(that's what comes of spending too much time
in the 17th century!)

Creative Commons License
"A Dialogue between Freedom and Fate" by Sørina Higgins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. This means that you can copy and distribute the work if you will not receive any commercial gain; that you can use the work in a new creative way (song lyrics, dramatic production, visual display), again, if you receive no commercial gain; and any other use that does not make you any money--as long as you do not change any of the words of the original text. Also, the author would like to be notified of any uses of her poem. Thank you.