Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sacred Hearts


[Originally posted during the too-hopeful autumn of 2011, forgive the swill regarding Occupy. Who knew it would turn out to be little more than a punchline, a detour between iPhone 3 and iPhone 4? A strange concoction emerging from nowhere just when the drive toward a Democratic Party primary challenge to Obama was strongest; a concotion which then disappeared when it was too late to file any challenges.]


"Film is a phenomenon whose resemblance to death has been ignored for too long." -- Norman Mailer

There were movies made during the 1940s war different from all other movies, from all other times; as tens of millions lost their lives in waves of newborn death-machine technologies, these works exist, on the cusp of noir, somewhere between life and death: La Nave Bianca, 47 Ronin, Heaven Can Wait, Ivan the Terrible - Part I, the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur RKO masterpieces.

Robert Bresson's Ladies of the Bois de Bologne.


The Magnificent Ambersons.


Day of Wrath.


And the greatest directorial début in movie history, Bresson's 1943 Les Anges du Peche (Angels of Sin), a film Bresson -- because of Occupation and air raids -- had to shoot entirely at night. (Also occasionally lacking were electricity and heat: you can sometimes see the actresses' breath.) The movie is the Catholicism of my youth: secrets, magic, sorrow, hysteria, purity, suffocation, mystery, passion, furtiveness, wonder, humiliation, pride, miracle, sacrifice, self-abnegation, monumentality, prostration before power, ceremony, despair, blood, terror, lust, suffering, severity, ecstasy, longing, relics. There are many Holy Relics in Les Anges: Anne-Marie's mirror and family photographs, Thérèse's gun, police handcuffs, the dour Assistant Superior's black cat, the nuns' bare feet, the hands of Anne-Marie and Thérèse.

Although reshaped by the fresh winds of Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, and Vatican II (eventually causing inanities such as singing masses, church architecture more suited to high school gymnasiums, Saturday services, folk guitars, no Latin, congregational call-and-response, and the elimination of incense because it was making some people sick), my parish embraced the individual over the communal, mostly divorced from good works. One burns for good or evil by one's own flame, not in relation to others'.


A young and beautiful aristocrat joins a convent dedicated to the resurrection of lost souls -- female prison inmates released at the end of their sentences (or commuted) into the grace and mercy of the Sisters. Anne-Marie (Renée Faure) becomes obsessed with inmate Thérèse (a hard-bitten girl who rejects the convent upon release, but who later runs to it for sanctuary after shooting her ex-boyfriend, the man who framed her). Because of excessive willfulness and pride, Anne-Marie is asked to leave the order. She refuses to return to her family, instead sneaking onto the convent grounds at night to remain close to the Sisters and Thérèse. The characters float through Bresson and photographer Philippe Agostini's black-and-grey-and-white labyrinth of moral hierarchies and dimensions, embraced by Grunenwald's awe.


"Love, unannounced, soon has God's ear. Intelligence and wit He takes longer to hear." -- Silesius

Les Anges du Peche was released the summer of Simone Weil's death:

He entered my room and said:
“You understand nothing,
you know nothing.
Come with me and I will show you things.”
I followed him.

He took me into a church.
It was new and ugly. He led me
to the altar and said:
“Kneel down.”
I told him I had not been baptized.
He said, “Fall on your knees,
in love, as before the place where
truth lies.”
I obeyed.

He took me out and made me climb up
to his room. Through an open window
I could see the whole city, and the river.
The room was empty, except for a table
and chairs. He told me to sit.

We were alone. He spoke. From time
to time, other women would come in,
then leave.

Winter had gone; spring had not yet
come. The branches of the trees were
bare, without buds, in the cold air
full of sunshine. The light of day would
come shining, and fade away; then the
moon and stars would enter through
the window. And then once more
dawn would come.

At times he would be silent,
take some bread from a shelf,
and we would share it. This bread
really had the taste of bread.
I have never found that taste again.
               
He would pour some wine for me,
and some for himself ~ wine which
tasted of the sun, of the city. Other times
we would stretch ourselves out on the floor,
and sweet sleep would enfold me.
Then I would wake with the sun.
He had promised to teach me, but he
didn’t teach me anything.
We talked about all kinds of things,
as do old friends.

One day he said to me, “Now go.”
I fell down before him, I clasped his
knees, I implored him to not drive me
away. But he threw me out. I went down
the stairs unconscious of everything,
my heart was in shreds. I wandered
down the stairs. Then I realized I had
no idea where his room lay.

I have never tried to find it again.
I understood that he had come for me
by mistake. My place is not in that room.
It can be anywhere ~ in a prison cell,
on a train, in a red plush lobby ~
anywhere, except in that room.

Sometimes I cannot help trying,
with fear and remorse, to repeat
to myself a part of what he said
to me. How am I to know if I remember
rightly? He is not there to tell me.

I know well that he does not love me.
How could he love me? And yet deep down
within me something, a particle of myself,
cannot help thinking, that perhaps in spite of all,
he loves me.

"I know there is a God -- and I see a storm coming.
If He has a place for me, I believe that I am ready."
-- John F. Kennedy
Comparing Les Anges to Lilies of the Field, Bresson to Ralph Nelson, is like comparing Missa Solemnis to "If I Had a Hammer" or "Blowin' in the Wind." Still, both movies embody their time and place via a detailed, beautiful, and intense Catholicism as different as Vichy France and Kennedy's America, as apart from each other as were the most despairing moments in man's history from some of the brightest.

Driving across the flatlands of some southwestern state, Homer Smith's car breaks down near to a broken-down convent. He asks the nuns for some water for his engine, and allows himself to be roped into doing odd jobs for what Homer (Sidney Poitier) assumes will be for pay. The pay does not come, the odd jobs multiply, and eventually Smith agrees to personally build the Sisters -- a platoon of German/East European nuns on the run from Godless Communism, in director/producer/actor Ralph Nelson's genuflection before Cold War liberalism -- a new church, brick-by-brick. The local community -- the poor and working class, plus one cracker businessman with a heart of gold (nicely played by Nelson) -- insist on contributing, as Homer steps away from his pride, toward the common good.


In another season, the movie may have been ignored. 1963 would be the last year before Nixon without a Long Hot Summer. Instead it had a March on Washington, George Wallace standing in a schoolhouse doorway, the death of Medgar Evers in the first American political assassination of the decade, four little girls blown up in a Birmingham church, a Civil Rights Bill, and the President of the United States declaring the elimination of race prejudice a supreme moral issue.



So a small, dignified, kind movie gets lots of attention and its star becomes the first black actor (playing a human being) to win an Oscar. A handsome, gleaming black man can appear on screen before white nuns, some of them young and pretty, in his underwear. Quite a-ways from 1960, movie-wise.

The experience of our lone Catholic Administration can be seen as the country's Stations of the Cross, on the road to the Golgotha of Dallas:

First Station -- Kennedy refuses troop involvement in a collapsing Laos, instead helps form a neutralist-coalition government which stands until the middle-1970s.

Second Station -- Kennedy refuses United States air cover and troop involvement during the rout at the Bay of Pigs.

Third Station -- Berlin Wall goes up. Kennedy takes no action.

Fourth Station -- South Vietnam on the brink of collapse, as most of JFK's government pushes strongly for the sending of 250,000 troops to stabilize the Diem regime. Kennedy sends 10,000 "advisers" instead.

Fifth Station -- Kennedy takes on U.S. Steel, forcing the leaders of the steel industry to rescind a price increase which violated a Kennedy-brokered agreement to combat inflation.

Sixth Station -- Refusing calls to bomb and invade Cuba, refusing the calls of some to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Moscow, Kennedy resolves the Missile Crisis by agreeing to not attack Cuba and to remove U.S. nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey, on the Soviet border.

Seventh Station -- Kennedy and Indonesian President Sukarno take steps to form a neutralist government in troubled Indonesia, JFK again refusing to approve any covert actions aimed at the country, a refusal reversed two years later by LBJ, leading to the murder of over 1,000,000 suspected "leftists" and the overthrow of Sukarno.

Eighth Station -- Kennedy forms back-channel to Castro government.

Ninth Station -- At American University, JFK calls for an end to the Cold War, reminding us that "we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."

Tenth Station -- The next day(!), Kennedy announces his intention to help lead the Black Revolution instead of fighting it.

Eleventh Station -- Kennedy forms back-channel to North Vietnamese government, through the Ngo brothers.

Twelfth Station -- Signs the Nuclear Test Ban treaty with the Soviets, banning all nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underground, or underwater.

Thirteenth Station -- Kennedy orders first 1,000 Americans withdrawn from South Vietnam by the end of '63, in phase-one of a planned total Vietnam withdrawal.

Fourteenth Station -- At the United Nations on September 20, 1963, JFK calls for world disarmament, for a world government in the interests of peace, a world center for conservation and food distribution, and a world system of health bringing all people of the earth under medical protection. He also calls for an end to the Space Race, for a unified effort to explore the stars, the planets, the moon -- and a ban on all outer space weapons and military-oriented satellites. This, combined with Kennedy's refusal to Americanize the war in Southeast Asia, would have cost the corporate/military/intelligence vampires trillions of dollars.


Liberation Theology begins here. And continues wonderfully under Pope Francis.


To have defined the Catholic Church by the likes of the former Nazi pope and his fellow pederasts was like defining togetherness along the lines of the Manson Family. In the face of virulent attacks from Rome (most of them directed by Ratzinger), the magnificent socialist liberations across Central and South America flowed from the Theology as does the continuing model of the Cuban Revolution.

The timing of the original attacks on the Church, ignited by the child abuse scandals, has always smelled. One thinks of Chomsky's defense of government: "There's a lot of things wrong with government, but what the US Elites hate about it is what is right: that government is reachable and controllable by the people, that is it the only weapon available against increasing privatization and inequality." The attempt to destroy the public face of the Catholic Church -- a jihad coincidentally begun under the most extreme WASP war administration in U.S. history -- emerged to destroy what is right with the Church: its remaining preference for the poor, its involvement with anti-war, anti-globalist, anti-capitalist movements across the world.

As far as is known, no part of the Catholic Church is currently engaged in the destruction of Palestinian and other Middle Eastern cultures, homes, women, children or old men. Nor is the Church part of the Holy WASP Capitalist Crusade against the world in places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan or Afghanistan. (Or Europe.) The buggery of children has gone on forever in the hallowed halls of:

Yale Skull & Bones
The Council on Foreign Relations
The TriLateral Commission
Sullivan and Cromwell
The CIA
The Carlyle Group
Lutherans, Calvinists, and Presbyterians
Methodists, Anabaptists, and Anglicans

And all the other WASP bloodsuckers who have caused the deaths of billions of people over the past centuries.


Nuns, the poor and working class, the despairing. Who notices now? The message is clear: you are waste product, the world would be better off without you; in fact, doesn't even see you. The generosity of the country's heart has shut. Liberation Theology is Occupy Wall Street, our current Lilies of the Field. Doubtless they are generally unprepared for the shitstorm which will rain down once the show stops and the corporate walls begin to crack, but they are the few honorable, those here in this once great city, now a lost heap of sorrow and rage who still try to do their best and to do good. They are fine troops, with the courage to live at war every day in a society now run by beasts.