Monday, October 10


The Sun and the Moon

And so I decided to watch Brother Sun, Sister Moon on St. Francis Day. My friend Judith prefaced the cinematic event with the caveat that it was "very seventies," which it was. It's a period piece, with a hippie Francis and flower-child Clare--a lovely girl, yes, but not the bold delicate creature who ran away from home and got her head shaved by a mendicant weirdo who turned out to be a saint. We see the towers of San Gimigiano, magnificent landscapes spattered with scarlet flowers without a shadow in sight, burning churches, bizarre Van Eyck bling-bling and medieval burghers tricked out in get-ups equal parts Giotto, Plan Nine from Outer Space and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It is about as medieval as an Orlando dinner theater, and glistening with the same tackily fascinating magnificence. St. Francis, the real one, is the quintessence of one sort of medieval man--God, nature, mortification, beauty, pain, glory, the open road and the cocky song and dance of a French minstrel. St. Francis was a holy man who did odd and often terrifying things to modern eyes, and we saw little of that, and none of the God that moved him to such fantastic penances and vagabond Providence. We see Brother Sun and Sister Moon, in wispy tunes by Donovan, but not the sun and the moon that the crucifixes of Francis's day bore painted above each arm, the sun and the moon with their faces stained with ideographic tears at the horror they watch below. Our modern Francis lacks shadow, and lacks muscle, and seems as delicately feminine as Clare. The glamorous Francis of Brother Sun, Sister Moon is all the sculpted skin and tousled hair that the real Francis shed, a tough tonsured Don Quixote equal parts gristle and bone, fierce as a warrior and gentle as his Mother the Church.

I learned much that evening, and I am glad I watched it: not of St. Francis, but of the image our century carries about with it of the man.

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