Monday, May 9

That Caesar’s Bath Thing All the Cool Kids are Doing

List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over. To use the words of Caesar (from History of the World Part I), “Nice. Nice. Not thrilling – but nice.”

Okay, I know I will be stepping on some toes here, as my fellow co-bloggers are big fans of some of this stuff, but note that I don't dislike these things, I'm just mostly indifferent. Guys (and girl) of the Shrine, I'd enjoy your own counter-list. So here goes.

1. Burying St. Joseph in the Back Yard – Okay, a couple of my friends are big enthusiasts about this form of private devotion. Now, I’m pretty lenient when it comes to drawing the line between popular piety and, well, weirdness, at least the bad kind (and the good kind of Catholic weirdness? Three words: Museum of Purgatory), but frankly I can’t see anything which shoves this rather odd devotional from column B back into column A. It just reminds me too much of that circle of Italian old ladies in Naples who would put the statue of St. Anthony in the fridge whenever they lost the lottery. I’d be perfectly happy to put my stamp of approval on it, but—just some explanations, please.

2. Summer – I’m with Jane and the Old Oligarch on this one, and also Lauren, with regard to The Beach since it seems to be one of the central pillars to The Summer Experience. Okay, it’s hot, it’s humid, gals are running around in magenta tube tops and short shorts and guys, in a total violation of gentlemanly rules of conduct, are prancing around without shirts or shoes. While I consider myself luckily enough in control of my hormones not to be too bothered by lovely young girls running about with very little on, frankly it’s my aesthetic sense that’s offended: how can a young lady retain a sense of mystery if large portions of her anatomy are hanging out in the breeze? Women: no matter who you are, you will look better in something fall and tweedy. Call it librarian chic. Also, demoiselles, unless you’re blessed to have perfect olive/chestnut/copper skin (which is good for those who possess it), tanning yourself to the consistency of burnt toast seems like a bad idea. Nothing wrong with a healthy pallor. Last time I checked, Botticelli’s alabaster-skinned Venus doesn’t look like she’s been sitting under ultraviolet light. And then there’s The Beach. I drive two hours to sit on hot, gritty stuff which someday may be turned into glass and then get in the ocean full of all sorts of strange beasties, only to get more hot gritty stuff all over my feet when I get back out again. And then I have to get in the water again, this time a shower, to wash off all the other water that I’m now soaked in. Now, walking along the beach with a friend, with all my clothes on, that’s different.

3. French Impressionism – Okay, Monet, Manet, Degas, all those folks are great. They deserve their place in history. Some of them are very pleasant to look at, and I enjoy an impressionist exhibit as much as the next man. But enough already. They also unintentionally opened the floodgates of Modernism by totally wrecking the Salon, which, while sometimes schmaltzy, still had at least a little life left in it. The idea’s a good one, but if we’re doing (semi-) experimental nineteenth-century artists, I’ll take Whistler, Sargent, the Pre-Raphaelites (who have their flaws, yeah…but Zadok, come on now, while Rosetti’s women are a little peculiar-looking, they aren’t…well, they aren’t really unattractive! And there are all those great Waterhouse nymphs...sigh) and, of course, Alfonse Maria Mucha and all those jugendstil folks. Okay, Claude, it’s blurry. You step back and it isn’t. Big hairy deal. Now I’m going to go squint at some Caravaggios.

4. Adult Beverages – Wine is great. It’s a valuable part of Catholic culture. It’s tied up in the greatest Sacrament Christ gave to us. That aside, frankly when ranking wine, women and song in descending order, the wine comes last. Most of my friends aren’t heavy drinkers, but they do enjoy wine, beer and other Adult Beverages from time to time, and I’ve never quite understood what all the fuss is about. They taste kinda good, sometimes, but for some reason they don’t do anything for me. I need something cool to gulp. Maybe it’s my problem.

5. Napoleon Dynamite – I’ve seen only twenty minutes of this film, the last twenty, and I admit it’s neither as bad nor as good as most of the horrible/glowing reviews I’ve heard. Lemme be blunt—there’s no plot, and what humor there is seems somehow deliberately frustrated (à la Borges’ book review of the imaginary author Herbert Quain’s equally fictive work, Statements, in which each story’s plot is deliberately screwed up by the author), but there is a fascinating crudeness in the cinematography that reminds me faintly of modern folk-art. The plasticky, kitsch world the film creates is fascinating in its mundanity mingled with a Brueghelesque sense of the grotesque. (Napoleon himself, in his late-70s suits and clown-like hair looks more like something out of Bosch). But within that perfect and utterly complete and faintly decaying ordinariness, it does absolutely nothing. The movie is an empty vase that cries out for some content, for something, anything, to happen. Maybe comedy. Maybe something paranormal that would be thrown into high relief against the nearly Platonic banality of the setting. Maybe anything but what happened, or rather, what didn’t happen.

Runner-up: Thérèse – Leonardo DiFilippis, the man behind the movie, is a good and pious man; I’m good friends with a great guy who worked on his staff and actually got the gift of a rather nice pea coat from the fellow. However, when I went to the theater, I watched it with very mixed emotions, and I felt guilty for it. The cinematography is surprisingly uninventive, especially considering how clever lighting can cover a multitude of budget cuts. While filmed in Oregon, sometimes the film seems surprisingly French, and at other points, such as the stark and very modern-looking interior of the Carmel, it is simply impossible to suspend disbelief. There are probably at least a few old nineteenth-century churches in the state that could have stood in for it during filming. My main beef with the film was the acting—to some degree, filming Story of a Soul is an impossible task, given its deep interior content. However, poor Lindsay Younce (and what a sweet creature she seems, I must say, to her credit—I do hope she goes on to try her hand at film elsewhere) seems too distant and unchanging, and when her character does develop, it comes across as awkward and contrived. That’s probably mostly the script’s fault, which refuses to engage with the dark side of her life—her grappling with spiritual aridity and scrupulosity—which makes her trust in God all the more striking. The film is like a nineteenth-century holy-card, a fascinating and clearly pious artifact with a good intention, but unfortunately falling short of the Caravaggian depths the subject needs. (Barbara Nicolosi knows what I means).

Other items: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century French Organ Music; Computer Aided Design; making fun of Franciscans (sorry, Lauren); some Jesuit Jokes (others I love); boxy-looking “manly lace” on albs (either drop it altogether and do something embroidered and medieval, or go for the whole three feet of it); hoods on chasubles (with the exception of the one the Pope wore at his Installation Mass); playing sports; the nickname “Papa Ratzi” (Panzerpapst is far cooler); dorm dances; and loud music (of any sort, except baroque organ music).

Now I'd like to see Meredith, Fr. Bryce, and the Irish Elk to take a stab at this.

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