Monday, June 25, 2007

The Gimpfoot Film Festival

After over a year free of gimpfootery, adding that bit of running to my recently increased walking schedule has heralded the return of my gimpy foot. No, wait. The foot didn't actually go anywhere, it's just the gimpiness that is back from hiatus. Really, it hadn't been too bad until Sunday morning. I am choosing to believe it was an aberration, because it's been really nice, this pain free living of the past year. So, in the name of happy feet, I decided to make yesterday a day for lazing around reading (enjoying Calvin Trillin's love letter to his departed wife, About Alice and struggling through C.S. Lewis' less riveting Mere Christianity) and watching movies. After many weekends with no loafing, doing a whole lot of nothing felt pretty good.

Unlike last summer's lonely hearts film festival, which was a complete hodgepodge , this one had an accidental theme of churches, religion, and movies that accidentally fell into my lap rather than me choosing them on my own.

First on the list Joan of Arc: Child of War, Soldier of God courtesy of my neighbor. This is a documentary was originally a made for t.v. production narrated by Alfred Molina and starring Anna Paquin's voice as Joan. I'm not sure why, but someone else was cast to actually play the maid of Orleans. The documentary was produced by the ominous sounding name of "Faith & Values Media" (which sounds like the media wing of the RNC) and attempts to tell Joan's story through her own eyes and words. It also features commentary from assorted biographers and academics along side that of the executive producer of the t.v. series Joan of Arcadia (is that still on?). I have no idea what the producer's background is, but have to wonder at the scholar/t.v. lady combination. I guess maybe it makes it more accessible for non-nerds who hear academic and think "boring". I have to admit that I've never actually bothered to watch Arcadia. Maybe that would explain it for me. A look at Arcadia Joan's diary on the CBS site sure didn't illuminate anything for me other than that it made me think the show must lean more toward being inspired by the idea of what kind of hijinx would ensue if young girl were to start hearing voices than it does toward the source material that inspired it. Either way, I thought she was an interesting choice of commentator and that the film was, all in all, a pretty fair introduction to Joan's biography.

In the way of A&E profiles and History channel biographies, the enjoyment factor of offerings like this one probably goes up in direct proportion to the size of a person's inner history nerd. I'm not sure my nerd knows that she's supposed to be inner. Joan of Arc is a figure who has held fascination for me for quite some time now. I've always been interested in that fuzzy line between unusual personal experience, reality and madness. Can you imagine how you would feel, if at the age of 13 (or 30, for that matter), you suddenly started hearing voices proclaiming it was your destiny to change the course of history? Would you think they were real or the product of mental illness? That is really the question about Joan of Arc. Were the voices that inspired her a real example of divine intercession or did they come form somewhere within herself?

As would be expected of a production of a body called Faith & Values Media, the film came down firmly on the side of geniune mystical experience rather than hallucination or schizophrenia, noting that Jeanne was the only mystic to exert an actual effect on society. Not only that, but when you think about it, it is huge that during a time when women had few rights, a young, inexperienced girl would be given a whole army and manage to lead it to multiple victories against a force such as the occupying British military. Those under her command would not have been men who were used to taking direction from a woman, which makes her accomplishments pretty large, even without the attendant questions of mysticism vs. madness.

Next up, satellite dish and a German Heimatfilm, Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens (The Best Day of my Life). Filmed in 1957 when Heimatfilme were at the height of their popularity, Der Schönste Tag... is the story of an orphaned Hungarian boy, who is adopted by an old ship's captain. After learning that the boy has a talent for singing, the grandfatherly old man helps the boy acheive his dream of becoming one of the Wiener Sängerknaben (Vienna Boys Choir). Of course, as is the way in such films, it has its sappy drama filled moments, when the boy is almost kicked out of the choir for stealing. In an attempt to save the pretty nurse/mother figure who takes care of the boys from being fired when a large sum of money goes missing, he cops to a crime he didn't commit. Somehow in his bid to keep everyone from realizing he has lied to protect her, the boy runs away and manages to incur a life threatening injury when he falls in the river. The nurse prays, a golden shaft of light sets the crucifix on the wall near the boy's bed aglow signifying that tragedy will be averted and the boy wakes up. True to the genre, this is all done against idyllic backdrops with much singing. Ultimately the nurse and her choir director fiance provide the requisite happy ending by adopting the little orphan boy.

Of course, it's all completely formulaic. One of the few references I could find to the movie on the internet completely panned it, but I have to admit that I have a real soft spot for Heimatfilme. They always remind of childhood visits to Germany. When I was kid, my grandfather would tape them whenever they were on t.v., so we'd all have something to watch together when I came to visit. So, even though the genre was at its most popular at least ten years before I was born, I have a pretty good familiarity for someone my age.

The final viewing of the weekend was Stigmata, a film I thought I had already seen, but felt bad refusing when my neighbor pressed it on me. In the end it turned out that I had never seen it before and had confused it with some other movie. As might be expected, the story is about an individual who begins to experience the stigmata. At first, she can't figure out what is going on. After receiving a shifty crucifix as a gift from her mother, who bought it from a street vendor while on vacation, our heroine suffers a metaphysical attack while she is taking a bath, then lands in the hospital as an apparent suicide attempt. The story leaks into the newspaper and that's how she meets handsome science-priest, Gabriel Byrne when he is sent by the Vatican to investigate her case. The twist is that unlike traditional stigmatics she's not Catholic, not a believer, not anything but a very young looking, thin, pre-Medium Patricia Arquette who wants her life back.
In some ways the movie reminded me a bit of The Da Vinci Code in the sense that it had a subtext of cover up with the hierarchy of the Vatican being none to pleased at the prospect of the derailing of Christian history via information that does not fit into the accepted canon of belief. It also had some shades of Emily Rose, combining possession with the concept of stigmata. At times it really did not make a whole lot of sense to me, especially the line between the deceased priest who was trying to convey a message about a lost gospel of Jesus and what were ostensibly malevolent forces. That said, when taken as what it is, I can't say that I didn't enjoy the film. It was suspenseful and I lost track of time, which is pretty much all I wanted on my day of taking pleasure in leisure.
And so ends my German Kino Plus/movies borrowed from my neighbor film festival. A day later, my gimpfoot is much improved and it's only four more days to the weekend, so things are looking good!

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