Archive for July, 2008

Prayers for Joe McKamey, please

I’d appreciate any prayers anybody might feel inclined to offer for my father-in-law, Joe McKamey. I’ll explain a bit more towards the beginning of next week or thereabouts. Many thanks.

A preview of The Divine Liturgy in English

A very nice preview of the Cappella Romana recording, presented by Dr. Vladimir Morosan on his Icons in Sound podcast, can be found on the Orthodox Christian Network. Give it a listen; my full review is still taking shape and is a little ways off yet. I somewhat get the sense that Dr. Morosan is choosing to present this recording as more of a fascinating curiosity rather than a legitimate model, but I suppose there are those who are going to think that one way or the other.

The scores are also starting to show up on the Cappella Romana website. Worth a look.

(Thanks to Seraphim Danckaert, whom I remember very well from his summer in Bloomington four years ago, for the heads-up.)

The Fellowship of Ss. Alban & Sergius: Archbishop Rowan Williams’ greeting

The message from Abp. Rowan which was read at the Fellowship conference is finally online — or maybe it has been for awhile and I’ve just missed it. Anyway, worth a read.

That unwelcome guest known as Reality

So, grad school was going to be one thing when I would be able to start this fall, as a funded student, with roughly half of the coursework done. I could finish a Masters in 2-3 semesters, do so without having taken on a ginormous amount of debt, and be set up to move on to a PhD program, theoretically being able to have that done before age 40, depending on how long it took to complete my dissertation. Obviously, this scenario has not panned out, and from what I was told after the fact, was nowhere near ever being the realistic possibility which it was presented as by those giving me counsel (who, in theory, should have known what they were talking about, which is why I trusted them in the first place).

The possibilities which have been presented to me as my best bets from here are St. Vlad’s, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. What it boils down to is, as one person put it, “You’re going to have to go someplace where they aren’t freaked out by a music degree,” said degree evidently being seen as maybe slightly better than a G. E. D. in terms of preparation for a humanities graduate program. And, as reported here before, I’ve spent some time at St. Vlad’s and had some really encouraging conversations with their faculty.

However, the fact is that the options open to me from here are essentially “pay-to-play” venues. To use St. Vladimir’s as an example, tuition there is $10,000/year, and then housing for a married student is going to be in the ballpark of another $10,000. The maximum award St. Vlad’s gives out in-house (at least according to their materials) is a 50% tuition waiver, which still leaves one on the hook for $15,000 per year just to be there, to say nothing of books or other living expenses. Yes, I could go as a sponsored seminarian and bring that number down significantly, but the honest truth is that I cannot honestly acknowledge any particular call to the priesthood at this point, and would be going that route just to get somebody to pay for my education. Nope, no can do.

Another fun fact is that right now I’ve got somewhere around 30 graduate credits. By the end of this next year I’ll have close to 40. Guess how many of them will be transferable, wherever I go? Basically zero. I will have to start from scratch, which at St. Vlad’s at least will mean three years. Getting back to the financial aspect, that means potentially coming out of there with around $60,000 – 90,000 of additional debt — just for the Masters degree. Considering there’s a $120,000 cap on federal student loans for graduate students, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the PhD. At all. Plus there’s the matter of the $38,000 I already have from my undergraduate days, plus the loans Megan has taken out as a graduate student.

The final nail in the coffin is that, while Megan in theory will be ABD after this coming year, we’re looking at the strong possibility of spending perhaps as much as two years in Germany for research purposes after she reaches ABD status. After that, there’s the likelihood that she would need to come back to Bloomington for another year to be able to spend some quality time with her advisor. This means even being able to start a program someplace is as much as four years off, meaning I’d finish a Masters at 38, perhaps. Depending on how long it takes to finish the dissertation, that would mean having the PhD done roughly in my mid-40s sometime. Maybe I’d be up for tenure by 50. That doesn’t exactly spell a long, fruitful working life as an academic.

I think the inescapable conclusion is that my only options from here for graduate school, given the way things have worked out (or not worked out, rather), are those which are going to be the most expensive in every way. This is simply not reasonable, rational, realistic, or responsible given my present circumstances, particularly not with the possibility of children in the near future being in the mix. Rather, the limitations which I have encountered, and which do not seem to be able to be overcome, make me wonder if it wouldn’t be more responsible for me to start saving now for the education of our children, even before they are conceived. I find myself in largely the same place where I was when I had to acknowledge that singing wasn’t going to work out — the options I’m left with would be far more feasible for a younger man with no attachments. The idea of being a scholar of Late Antique Christianity and liturgy was a nice fantasy and seemed to make sense given other factors, but I think the hard truth is that at some point, you’re either well set up to play the game or you’re not. The conclusions I reached in 2005 about what my strengths and interests actually were came about five to ten years too late to be able to go this route with any particular success — the irony being that I would have never come to those conclusions had I not gone after singing as long as I did. It just wasn’t meant to be, and I am at a point in life where I have to be honest, perhaps brutally so, with myself about what I can and cannot do from here. Batman may have no limits, but I sure do, and I can’t afford to not know them. Perhaps I could have been an academic, and a good one, but the tough reality with which I am faced is that it doesn’t seem possible to get there from here.

So, having established what I can’t do, what can I do? I have a degree which nobody really cares I have, including the institution which granted it, basically qualifying me to push papers, giving me a pretty low earning capacity in general. I have a background that demonstrates within five seconds that, depending on how you spin it, either I’ve failed pretty spectacularly at virtually everything I’ve tried to do, or I’ve had pretty spectacularly bad luck. I have obscure interests which don’t exactly set the world on fire. In many respects it seems like the best bet from here is to do what I have to until Megan’s PhD is done, she is gainfully employed, and we have kids, at which point I try to be the best stay-at-home homeschooling dad I can possibly be.

It’s hard to say; I guess we watch this space for details.

Bp. Hilarion (Alfeyev) on the relative merits of different kinds of Orthodox liturgical music

With a tip of the hat to Subdn. Lucas the Blogless, an excerpt from a 2002 lecture entitled “Orthodox Worship as a School of Theology“:

Permit me to say a few words about church singing. Recently I visited the Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration, where I served an all-night vigil and Divine Liturgy in the monastery’s main church. The services there struck me by their prayerfulness, harmony, simplicity and grandeur. The monastic singing and Valaam chant used during the services made an especially strong impression. I suddenly recalled the words of St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), who visited Valaam one and a half centuries ago and was also taken by the monastery’s chant:

The tones of this chant are majestic and protracted…they depict the groans of the repentant soul, sighing and longing in the land of its exile for the blessed, desired country of eternal rejoicing and pure, holy delights…These tones now drag on lugubriously, melancholically, drearily, like a wind through the wilderness, now gradually disappear like an echo among cliffs and gorges, now thunder suddenly…The majestic “Lord, have mercy” is like a wind through a desolate place, so sorrowful, moving and drawn out. The troparion “We hymn thee” ends with a protracted, shimmering, overflowing sound, gradually abating and imperceptibly fading under the vaults of the church, just as an echo dies out under a church’s arches. And when the brethren sing at vespers “Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me”, the sounds emanate as if from a deep abyss, are quickly and thunderously wrested therefrom and rise to heaven like lightning, taking with them the thoughts and wishes of those at prayer. Everything here is full of significance and majesty, and anything merry, light-hearted of playful would simply seem strange and ugly.

Valaam chant is a form of ancient Russian Znamenny chant, which itself absorbed the main characteristics of Byzantine church music. It is known that Byzantine chant was brought to Kievan Rus’ already during the time of Yaroslav the Wise. The “Book of Degrees” (Stepennaya Kniga, 1563) mentions that it was during this time that three Greek chanters came to Rus’ from Constantinople, bringing with them “special eight-tone, sweet, three-component, and most beautiful extended singing to praise and glorify God”. The word “three-component” has been subject to various interpretations by musicologists and theologians. In any case, it refers not to three-voiced, but unison singing. One could suppose that the word “three-component” points to the three dimensions of ancient church chant: the musical, verbal and spiritual, through which it differed from secular singing, which had only two: verbal and musical.

Being comprised of these three aspects, both Russian Znamenny chant and Byzantine singing are phenomena of the same order. They are characterized by a spirituality that is lacking not only in many works of secular music, but also in the contemporary western-style church singing, which is composed according to principles totally different from those of ancient chant. It is no secret that the concert-like, “Italianate” singing performed in many churches does not correspond to the spirit of the traditional liturgical texts to which they were written. The main aim of such music is to give pleasure to the ear, while the aim of true church singing is to help the faithful immerse themselves in the prayerful experience of the mysteries of the faith.

The structure and musical characteristics of ancient Russian singing are also diametrically opposed to those of Western-style singing. Znamenny chant was not written by composers but rather compiled from an already existing collection of canonical musical fragments, just like ancient mosaics were pieced together from a collection of stones of various colours. It is not easy for modern man to appreciate ancient chant, and just as difficult to “lay aside all earthly cares” and enter the depths of prayerful contemplation. But only this and similar singing is truly canonical and corresponds best to the spirit of Orthodox divine services.

Bishop Porfiry (Uspensky), the well-known 19th-century church archaeologist, wrote the following regarding the mystical “three-component” singing of the ancient Russian Church: “We have forgotten this mystery of music, but it was known to our ancestors. The history of our Church shows that at one time Greek chanters from Constantinople brought to Russia angelic three-component singing, that is, singing comprised of three intonations corresponding to the three faculties of the soul. It seems that it would not be too difficult to revive this singing”. It is indeed possible to revive it by returning to the ancient, time-tested models of Znamenny chant, as has already taken place in Valaam and several other monasteries.

At present, the monuments of ancient Russian chant are becoming better and better known. Just as ancient Russian icons, once-forgotten but relatively recently (at the beginning of the 20th century) restored to their original splendour once cleaned of centuries of accumulated soil, Znamenny chant is now being revived by masters skillful at reading its “hook notation”. In my opinion, the restoration of Orthodox liturgical culture to its original beauty, grandeur and instructiveness is unthinkable without the revival of canonical Church singing, which for the Russian Church is Znamenny chant. Concerts of Church music by Bortnyansky and Vedel, and Cherubic hymns by Kastalsky and Archangelsky may be beautiful and moving in certain respects, but their music does not teach us anything, since it only creates a kind of background that is more or less neutral with respect to the words of the service. On the other hand, Znamenny chant possesses enormous edifying power since it was created for prayer, fosters prayer and is irrelevant outside of the context of prayer.

Even the so-called “popevki” (canonical musical fragments), the main building components of Znamenny chant, are nothing other than a musical reflection of various prayerful movements of the soul. Moreover, each musical fragment has its own theological basis. If ancient Russian icons are said to be “theology in colours”, then ancient Russian chant can be considered theology in music. And if western-style church singing, like the Russian “academic” paintings on religious themes are at best a school of piety, then monophonic Znamenny chant can be regarded as a school of prayer and theology.

I may have more to say about this later, but in the meantime, how do we start a fan club for this man?

Things Jesus would say if He were physically on the planet today…

“A city set upon a hill…”

“…probably isn’t wheelchair accessible!”

(Terribly insensitive humor inspired by the following chain —

This story: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25825608/

Which then led me here: http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3426

And you have this quote from the architect here: http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?s=9062f44d4a8168a55a0532331fbef550&t=3426&page=2

Planners for the archdiocese want the new building close to Greenwich Street, rather than behind or on top of the hill that will be formed by the entryway to the ramps.

“The church has to be accessible,’ said Nicholas P. Koutsomitis, an architect who is preparing the master plan for St. Nicholas. “It can’t be perched on top of a hill.” (emphasis mine)

Let it be said that I have every sympathy for the desire to make a church building accessible; I just find the irony of the statement to be quite thick.)

Something I don’t usually do…

I’ve kept my comments here restricted to a few general categories — more to the point, there are a few things I’ve avoided talking about. I don’t talk about politics here (although perhaps some stances are indirectly discernible), I don’t generally blog about what I do at work (mostly because that would generate an even smaller number of readers; I work a desk job, and there’s not much to say), I don’t say much (with some exceptions) about my personal life, and I don’t for the most part do things like movie reviews.

Well, this isn’t going to be a movie review, exactly, but it’s going to be about movies, and it’s going to deal with, in large part, a movie you had a statistical likelihood of seeing this last weekend if you bothered darkening the door of your local movie theatre at all between midnight last Thursday and Sunday evening. (No, shocked as you may be, I’m not talking about Mamma Mia!)

I’ve been a Batman guy for a loooooooooong time. There was a little Brave and the Bold digest my mom brought me home once when I was probably about five and home sick; it collected this neat little Batman vs. Deadman story which was drawn by Neal Adams — “You Can’t Hide From a Deadman,” originally printed in Brave and the Bold #86, Oct/Nov 1969 — and I was hooked ever since. It was still a few years yet before I started reading comics regularly, but I remember coming in on the tail end of Batman: Year 2, reading Ten Nights of the Beast, The Killing Joke, and A Death in the Family when they were first printed (The Dark Knight Returns I came to about three years late or so just ’cause it looked kinda ugly to this ten year old when I first saw it on the shelves — let’s face it, I was just too young to get it), and I was definitely at the movie theatre on 23 June 1989 for the first night the Burton/Keaton Batman was playing, which I saw three times that summer while it was still in the theatres. A tick over nineteen years later, maybe not much has changed.

I’ve also been a Christopher Nolan guy for a good bit. I saw Memento three times when it was in theatres, and keep in mind that meant, at least for the first couple of times I saw it, driving about half an hour to the arthouse which was playing it. I talked it up to whomever would listen, took friends to see it, bought David Julyan’s score CD, bought the DVD (both versions), and so on. I bought (and quite liked) Following when it came out on DVD, and while for various reasons had to miss Insomnia when it was in theatres, I’ve enjoyed it on DVD since (but, truthfully, it remains the one I’ve seen the least number of times — maybe that’s nothing to lose sleep over?).

For me, getting to know a director’s work is getting to know what kinds of themes interest them, what kinds of images they consistently use, what they like to do with structure, which actors they re-use, who scores their movies, what kind of pattern they’re continuing (or establishing) with new works, and so on. To put it another way, a director is always infinitely more interesting to me when there is something more I can get out of one of their movies by placing it in the context of the rest of their work.

Which brings me to The Dark Knight. There are major spoilers to follow from The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento, Following, Insomnia, and The Prestige, so do read at your own risk.

I’ve seen it twice now; I was lucky enough to get in on the viral marketing IMAX ticket giveaway, only because I live in a market where two hours after the site went live there were still tickets available (although only just — I was 164/170), and thus saw it 50.5 hours before most of the rest of the world had a chance. I also saw it again (in IMAX, natch) last Friday night. I’ll get the easy stuff out of the way first: some movies are overhyped. A couple of well-edited trailers, a flashy marketing campaign, and a couple of glowing early reviews can all add up to a disappointing experience in the actual cinema because in the end, it’s “just a movie” and doesn’t cure cancer. The Dark Knight is not this movie — it is every bit as good as you’ve heard, and gets better on repeat viewings. Everybody brings their A-game, be they in front of the camera or behind the camera, be they in a big role or a small role, and they craft a crime epic for the ages along the lines of Heat or The Departed or L. A. Confidential. This isn’t Tim Burton’s self-aware, dark-but-comic freakshow; this isn’t Joel Schumacher tweaking your nose. And — I say this as somebody who saw Iron Man twice and who thinks it was absolutely terrific — this also definitely isn’t Jon Favreau’s bright, flashy, action-adventure story in which A Flawed But Ultimately Good Man Learns Something While Wearing A Costume. The Dark Knight takes the idea of a “comic book movie” and elevates it to a whole new genre and a whole new level of filmmaking; you’ll either like that or you won’t (I’ve read some reviews that say it’s pointless to try to elevate source material which is absurd to the core to the level of Hamlet), but if your reasons for not liking a movie like this have to do with the title character being dressed as a bat rather than wearing a shirt and tie, that’s really your problem, and not that of the filmmakers.

One thing about the story – two years ago, when the title was revealed and Nolan said it was “quite important to the film” (http://www.batman-on-film.com/batmovienewsarchives48.html), I immediately understood it to be a double entendre with “the dark night”. Putting that together with the recasting of Rachel Dawes rather than creating a new character (seeming to point to the need for somebody in whom we were already invested emotionally), I believed from that moment on that Rachel was going to be dead as a doornail by the end of the film. Sure enough. If the rumors are true that Rachel was originally supposed to be Harvey Dent in Batman Begins until there was a studio note saying “We need a chick in the pic, stat”, then that was a great way for Nolan to take it and run with it.

Okay — I haven’t said anything new there. You’ve probably read a dozen reviews which have said something similar, so I’ll move on now to what I really want to write about.

The Dark Knight keys off of several important ideas set up in Batman Begins; definitely that of “escalation,” established in the closing conversation in BB between Gordon and Batman, but also very much the repeated line, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me” as well as the notion that Batman isn’t just Bruce Wayne in a mask; it is in fact who Bruce Wayne actually is.

And as bleak as people are saying it is, the two important things with which you’re left at the end of the movie are a) nobody on either boat pressed the button and b) Batman did not let the Joker fall to his death — a correction of a huge misunderstanding on Tim Burton’s part nineteen years ago, and a clear indicator that Batman has decided that “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” is no longer a clear enough line in the moral sand, not when your enemy has no rules whatsoever.

All well and good. However, looking at it through the lens of Nolan’s other work, bigger themes start to emerge. Much has been made of how much Nolan likes to play with time, but that’s really window dressing, a story-telling tool rather than a theme (and it’s telling how, as he has matured as a filmmaker, he’s done it less and less). Identity, on the other hand, has been a key question in his movies from the get-go; Following and The Prestige study characters who deliberately take on other identities but then find that they can’t just simply go back to normal when they’re done. The narrator of Following turns himself into somebody who seems slick and clever and affluent, emulating Cobb as much as he can at Cobb’s own encouragement, but in doing so he makes it impossible to prove that Cobb ever existed and/or that he’s not, in fact, Cobb — which was, of course, “all part of the plan” in the first place. Angier and Borden in The Prestige both are leading double lives (I’ve always thought it was particularly clever of Nolan to cast as his leads actors most famous for playing superheroes, and that it added a fascinating subtext to the film), and must maintain the “act” at all costs, to the extent that their lives are quite dependent on it. In trying to figure out each other’s magic tricks, Angier and Borden are actually solving the problem of who the other person actually is.

Memento‘s Leonard Shelby, on the other hand, is an examination of how our natural identities depend on how we experience time and form memories — if we can’t, we’re slaves to external sources of information, never able to trust our own instincts about who we are. As a result, Leonard can never stop mourning the death of his wife, because his own perception of time (or lack thereof) can never provide any distance from it. It will always have just happened for him.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight bring many of these concepts together. Bruce Wayne, as depicted by Nolan, his brother Jonathan, and David Goyer, has assumed at least one identity (if not two, counting the “playboy Bruce” persona) which changes him and those with whom he interacts permanently. At the same time, the whole reason he does so is because, to a certain extent, he can never get past the trauma of losing his parents, because the one way he knows to heal, revenge, has been taken from him — and he realizes it won’t necessarily do what he hopes for anyway. One way or the other, he’s permanently emotionally stuck, much like Leonard Shelby, and this drives him to take on the dual persona (which is itself an interesting inversion of Bale’s character/characters in The Prestige, Borden — two men having to lead one life). To apply Memento‘s questions, then — can Bruce trust his own sense of who he is? Is the Batsuit really a message he sends to criminals, or a message he’s sending to himself, much like Leonard Shelby’s tattoos? To apply The Prestige‘s questions, can he stop being Batman without causing himself, to say nothing of others, harm?

Several of the films deal with familial loss; Memento and The Prestige both with the loss of a wife under circumstances which are left ambiguous, Batman Begins obviously having the murder of parents as a pivotal point (but also has Ra’s Al Ghul talking about taking vengeance for a murdered wife), and The Dark Knight has the murder of Harvey Dent’s fiancée as a major engine of the plot (while also showing Gordon’s wife mourning his death in the line of duty). All of these cases are motivators for vengeance, but in The Prestige in particular it’s clear that Angier’s lust for revenge eventually wanes, and he continues out of the sheer momentum of hatred — “I don’t care about my wife, I care about his secret,” he spits out halfway through the movie. Looking forward, perhaps we can surmise that Bruce Wayne eventually faces the danger of being Batman just to be Batman, with no particular purpose driving him.

One can draw a line of connection between Dormer’s corruption in the name of catching the bad guys in Insomnia to what Gordon and Batman choose to do at the end of The Dark Knight; if it can be proven Dormer planted evidence even once, then it calls all of the convictions to which he’s contributed into question. In TDK, if Harvey’s spree as Two-Face is made public, their efforts to fight the mob will have been entirely in vain. Bending the rules to make the criminals pay is a slippery slope in Nolan’s universe, one with very real consequences. Even if everything ostensibly turns out all right, somebody will have to pay the piper — and sometimes it’s the wrong person.

(By the way, Nolan has mentioned that Aaron Eckhart was looked at for Memento. I think one can look at Eckhart’s Two-Face for a glimpse of what he might have been like as Leonard Shelby. I think that was a career-defining performance for Guy Pearce, so I wouldn’t have it any other way, but Eckhart would have been really interesting in the role. Different from what we got, but definitely interesting.)

In terms of recurring visual motifs — there is always a “lair” in Nolan’s film, a location where the main character’s dark secrets are hidden and their true identity may be found. This goes all the way back to Following, where The Young Man takes Cobb to his apartment under the ruse that it’s somebody else’s (and of course Cobb knows what’s going on immediately). In Memento it is the basement of the abandoned building where Jimmy Gantz’s body and Leonard’s real clothes have been left. In Insomnia it is Finch’s cabin. In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight it is the Batcave (or its temporary replacement). In The Prestige it is the theatre basement where all of Angier’s “prestige materials” are kept. More often than not it involves “going down” someplace; I will leave others more qualified to speak about Jungian psychology to discuss the implications of the “descent” into the place where one keeps secrets, potentially even from oneself.

Breaking of legs is something which has shown up twice in a row now — Angier falls through a trapdoor and the cushion has been removed, shattering the entire limb from the looks of the brace he’s put in, and Batman drops Sal Maroni from a height which is just enough to break his ankle (although Nolan is far more subtle about showing Maroni with a cane later than he is with Angier). Being a year and a half out from a broken ankle myself and still recovering to some degree, both of those moments make me squirm each time.

Casting is an interesting point — Nolan doesn’t quite seem to have the “stock company” of David Mamet or, to a lesser degree, of David Lynch or Tim Burton, but three films in a row now have starred Christian Bale and Michael Caine. To some extent, Bale, Guy Pearce, and maybe Following‘s Jeremy Theobald, too have a visual continuity I can’t quite explain — distinctive faces which wear woundedness well, maybe. Bale and Pearce definitely have a carved-out-of-wood quality — and I don’t mean that in a bad way — to their facial and bodily structures (harder to say with Theobald). Hugh Jackman and Aaron Eckhart are somewhat the opposite — classically good-looking men who you want to like and have be the ostensible good guys (which, naturally, is what makes their characters more interesting when they turn). Mark Boone Junior has had significant supporting roles a couple of times, Theobald showed up in a bit role in Batman Begins, and Larry Holden is quite the chameleon, going from L. A. lowlife Jimmy Gantz in Memento to the dapper D. A. Finch in Batman Begins (as well as having a bit in Insomnia). He gets really interesting performances out of people, be it well-established character actors like Joe Pantoliano or Andy Serkis or people harder to define, such as David Bowie — who, by the way, I really wished would have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod for Tesla. He was onscreen for all of ten minutes, maybe, but he owned every frame in which he appeared. I’d love for Nolan to find a reason to cast Carrie-Anne Moss again — her appearance in Memento is still the most interesting thing she’s ever done, in black vinyl or out of it, as far as I’m concerned. (Probably, since she’s being cast in “mom” roles now — at all of 40! — she would be out of the running for a future cinematic appearance of Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Maybe she could play Selina’s mother, Cougarwoman?) Gary Oldman disappears so completely into the role of Gordon that it’s hard to tell if Nolan is actually giving him any direction or if he’s just getting out of the way.

So — back to The Dark Knight for a moment. What’s ahead? Where can a third Batman movie potentially go Or, to put it another way, what in the world do they do to top this one? And I think the answer is, they need to not bother trying. They need to go in the opposite direction and do something smaller, grittier, more – dare I say it – intimate. Maybe even something which feels more like a stage play than a movie – I don’t know, something more like Memento (and maybe even with David Julyan scoring rather than the Zimmer/Howard team, good as it is). They’ve set it up well to go in that direction – Batman is on the run (although presumably Bruce Wayne is not, since his being outed was prevented), his relationship with Lucius is strained (if not severed entirely) so that he won’t be able to just go to him with gadget requests anymore, and so on. Somehow he’ll have to repair what the events of The Dark Knight have broken, but that’s going to require operating on a smaller scale for awhile, I expect. Robin could work within this thematic framework, but it seems unlikely they’d go that way. Presumably in a third movie we’d be able to return to Wayne Manor, which itself could thematically represent some sort of shift back to the status quo.

In terms of what this means for a villain – hard to say. I would say that the Riddler could work on the thematic level – possibly something like Saw, only, y’know, worth watching. I’d be really surprised if the people at the helm wanted to revisit the character. Hard to say. I wonder if maybe somebody like Talia wouldn’t work, perhaps continuing her father’s efforts? It would certainly tie into what’s come before, and with Batman as a reluctant outlaw, there would be the element of temptation for him to join her on several levels. Catwoman could be done easily within the rules of Nolan’s universe, but I doubt Warner Bros. wants to go anywhere near that character for awhile.

(Here’s an idea – what about a Gotham Central TV series set in the Nolanverse between TDK and film #3 — The Dark Knight Returns??? — ? If Batman is having to be in hiding to some extent, then he can just be a vague, undefined presence to some extent who doesn’t have to directly appear.)

(Which reminds me – having watched the Gotham Knight DVD a few times now, too, I’ll say that presumably, Anna Ramirez was used instead of Renee Montoya because the powers that be didn’t want Renee Montoya to wind up as a dirty cop. That said, “Crossfire” now makes less sense as a result, not more – unless the point was to make her fall be even tougher for those who figured she was just a generic Montoya stand-in. Also, the Goyer segment doesn’t exactly jive with what we see of Crane at the beginning of The Dark Knight, but at the same time, Gotham Knight appears to also forget that Wayne Manor burned down during Batman Begins, so it’s not an exact match anyway.)

(I will also note that I think the Joker could be recast. Likely? No. Possible? Yes. Nolan would just have to do what he did this time, which is find the best actor for the job.)

(Okay, enough with the parentheticals.)

(I mean it.)

Maybe the biggest clue is in the final scene. It’s clear that Nolan and co. regard the Batman/Gordon relationship as the moral foundation of the particular stories they’re telling. That may seem obvious, but I think it’s very much underscored in the last scene of TDK, which is a clear counterpoint to the last scene of BB. For example –- Gordon telling Batman “thank you” and him replying, “You don’t have to thank me” seems to be very much a reference to the last line of BB, and in general both scenes function to wrap up the moral point of the preceding story and establish what the guiding principle will be for the next one. Given that, as much as escalation was the driving force of TDK, can we surmise that Gotham learning to accept the hero they need will be the plot engine of the third film?

Enough for now. I have plenty to say about all of this, but this is already quite long. I’ll come back to it another day, maybe.

It’s here…

Buy me!

Buy me!

Cappella Romana’s The Divine Liturgy in English arrived in the mail today. I will have more extensive comments about it later, but the bottom line is that once everybody in my choir has a copy, I can just tell them, for the most part anyway, “Sing it like that.” Let me assure you that I am not getting any incentive to advertise this disc in the slightest — it is no more and and no less that I firmly believe that this is a very important work which can serve as a model from here on out of what the ideal should be for Byzantine chant in English. There are some caveats there, but they have to do with circumstances which are going to change from parish to parish, and don’t really impact the general point.

Which is — buy it, listen to it, learn from it. Please don’t rip copies and give them out. This wasn’t cheap or easy for Cappella Romana to produce and it will impact the ability of ensembles such as CR to produce future such works if people just steal it. Cappella Romana ain’t Radiohead, folks.

Repost: An Interesting Point of Convergence

This is an old post from the .Mac days (14 February 2007 to be precise). A comment on this post over at the Ochlophobist’s blog reminded me of it (and seems to suggest that Fr. Alexander did, in fact, express some specific thoughts regarding Fr. Seraphim), and it seemed appropriate to put here. Enjoy.

I’m reading Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s Great Lent: Journey to Pascha as my Lenten discipline. I was struck by the following passage:

…Christian love is sometimes the opposite of ‘social activism’ with which one so often identifies Christianity today. To a ‘social activist’ the object of love is not ‘person’ but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract ‘humanity.’ But for Christianity, man is ‘lovable’ because he isperson. There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as person. The ‘social activist’ has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the ‘common interest.’ Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways actually is, rather sceptical about that abstract ‘humanity,’ but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person. Social activism is always ‘futuristic’ in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved. Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now–the only decisive time for love. The two attitudes are not mutually exclusive, but they must not be confused. Christians, to be sure, have responsibilities toward ‘this world’ and they must fulfill them. This is the area of ‘social activism’ which belongs entirely to ‘this world.’ Christian love, however, aims beyond ‘this world.’ It is itself a ray, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all ‘conditions’ of this world because its motivation as well as its goals and consummation is in God. And we know that even in this world, which ‘lies in evil,’ the only lasting and transforming victories are those of love. To remind man of this personal love and vocation, to fill the sinful world with this love–this is the true mission of the Church. (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 25-6)

Compare this to the oft-quoted passage from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, III.10:

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more–food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

These are clearly parallel statements, and I’d suggest they ultimately reflect the heavenly economy discussed in Mark 8:35: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Additionally, I’m not aware of Fr. Alexander having ever expressed any specific thoughts about Lewis (which isn’t saying very much, to be sure), but I at least wonder about the possibility of Lewis having directly influenced the Great Lent passage. Also, think about the literal meaning of the Greek word for sin, άμαρτία, “missing the mark.” According to both of these passages, “aiming for earth” will always result in a “missing of the mark.” To avoid sin, to hit the mark, we must “aim for heaven,” for something “beyond this world.”

What is also interesting about both of these passages to me is their unexpected resonance with the views of Fr. Seraphim Rose on what he identified as a modern manifestation of the heresy of chiliasm. Specifically, this term referred to the condemned belief that Christ will reign on earth for a thousand years before the end of the world, but Fr. Seraphim also used it to refer generally to a belief in the possibility of perfecting this world. (For a thorough treatment of Fr. Seraphim’s views on this point, see Hieromank Damascene’s Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Press, 242ff.)

Consider the following from Fr. Seraphim’s Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Press):

The careful observer of the contemporary religious scene…cannot fail to notice a very decided air of chiliastic expectation. […] Thus, many traditionalist Roman Catholics believe in the coming of a chiliastic ‘Age of Mary’ before the end of the world, and this is only one variant on the more widespread Latin error of trying to ‘sanctify the world,’ or, as Archbishop Thomas Connolly of Seattle expressed it… ‘transforming the modern world into the Kingdom of God in preparation for His return.’ Protestant evangelists such as Bill Graham, in their mistaken private interpretation of the Apocalypse (Revelation), await the ‘millennium’ when ‘Christ’ will reign on earth. (177)

He continues:

The life of self-centeredness and self-satisfaction lived by most of today’s ‘Christians’ is so all-pervading that it effectively seals them off from any understanding at all of spiritual life; and when such people do undertake ‘spiritual life,’ it is only as another form of self-satisfaction. This can be seen quite clearly in [a] totally false religious ideal… [which promises] an experience of ‘contentment’ and ‘peace.’ But this is not the Christian ideal at all, which if anything may be summed up as a fierce battle and struggle. The ‘contentment’ and ‘peace’ described in these contemporary ‘spiritual’ movements are quite manifestly the product of spiritual deception, of spiritual self-satisfaction–which is the absolute death of the God-oriented spiritual life… Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom of Heaven, which fully begins only with the dissolution of this temporal world, and the true Christian struggler never finds repose even in the foretastes of eternal blessedness which might be vouchsafed to him in this life[.] ( 187-8 )

Fr. Seraphim, as is typical, is uncompromising in his criticism of the modern world, and his language is therefore far more militant than that of Lewis or Fr. Alexander, but the bottom line for him is clearly the same: if we do not begin and end with the eternal Kingdom of Heaven as our goal, we are deceiving ourselves and nothing will be accomplished for this earth anyway. Again, I’m not aware of Fr. Seraphim having ever commented directly on Lewis (which is, again, not saying much); certainly he knew of Fr. Alexander (although it ‘s not clear that the reverse is true), and published some fairly savage criticism of him. However, I believe points of correspondence such as this one show that they had more in common than perhaps they would have wanted to admit, and that this is further made clear by a comparison of of Fr. Alexander’s published journals (The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) to Hieromonk Damascene’s biography of Fr. Seraphim and writings such as God’s Revelation to the Human Heart. (I have far more to say about the apparent tension between these two men, and believe it ultimately had more to do with ecclesial politics than actual tenets of faith, but that is an essay for another time.)

Three very different kinds of Christian thinkers in very different contexts: Lewis was a low-church Anglican and academic writing a popular apologetic. Fr. Alexander was an Orthodox priest and scholar writing a devotional book. Fr. Seraphim was a former Eastern philosophy scholar turned Orthodox ascetic and monastic writing a critique of contemporary spirituality. All wind up emphasizing essentially the same point nonetheless: Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. Christian love aims beyond this world.

I will note that there are subtle differences in how this point is presented: for Lewis, aiming at heaven is something we do; it requires an act of will from our end. For Fr. Alexander, aiming beyond this world must occur in the context of Christian love. For Fr. Seraphim, acquiring the Kingdom (aiming for heaven, if you will) requires struggle on our part. Strict Calvinists might argue that Lewis and Fr. Seraphim’s constructions are absolutely in error, that our total depravity renders any act of will or struggle on our part towards heaven impossible. However, given the concept in Orthodox Christianity of συνεργεία or cooperation between divine grace and human freedom (cf. 1 Cor 3:9, “We are fellow-workers with God”), this objection may be set aside. I’d argue that all three perspectives are in fact correct; it does require an act of will on our part, it must come from love (making it a cooperation with God, since God is love, cf. 1 John 4:8), and it is a struggle.

The point bears repeating: Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. Christian love aims beyond this world. How different a concept of “social justice” this forms from that which the secular humanists, and even those on the Christian left, preach.

Alexander Lingas talks about Cappella Romana’s The Divine Liturgy in English

Ancient Faith Radio has a half-hour interview with Dr. Lingas about The Divine Liturgy in English. This touches on the translation, the process used to make the settings workable in English, and much more. Highly recommended. (Hat tip to my godson, Subdn. Lucas Christensen the Blogless.)


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