Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ordet - A 1955 Carl Dreyer Film

You can watch this film at YouTube (in a 12-part playlist) here:

And here is a snippet from near the end that I found on YouTube: Warning: This gives away the whole film, so if you think you might want to watch it one day, I would avoid watching this scene.

I've recently discovered the genius of Carl T. Dreyer, a Danish filmmaker who started with silent films in 1918 and made his last in 1964. No matter which of his films you start with, his style of framing and storytelling is unique and was developed early. The first thing you'll likely notice is how much Ingmar Bergman took from him. Their films look very much alike and move with a slow deliberation where the silence is as important as what's being said. "Haste" is simply not in their vocabularies. But where Bergman's films were full of questions, Dreyer's are full of answers.

Dreyer was born a bastard child and initially orphaned before being adopted at the age of two by a Lutheran couple who he felt mistreated him. He was a very bright child, and after taking his school finals at sixteen, he left home and never returned. He found a job as a clerk and after a couple of years managed to find a position as a journalist. In his spare time he wrote film scripts and eventually was hired by Nordisk Films to both write screenplays and to sort through those that were sent in by others. Of course this eventually led to directing.

Despite Dreyer's disdain of his childhood, his Lutheran upbringing seems to have played a very important part in his life, and his religious faith made its way into nearly all of his films. He was a perfectionist and this shows in his films where every shot is just the right shot with just the right lighting, and even his actors in bit-parts were carefully selected. His films were shot mostly in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. Unfortunately, these were, even in those days, countries with a strong atheistic air that defined the spirit of the age, and thus, many of his films were considered flops. After German audiences laughed at his only horror film—Vampyr—Dreyer had a breakdown, checked himself into a clinic in Paris, and quit the cinema for a number of years, returning to journalism. He gradually got back into filmmaking with mostly documentary shorts throughout most of the 1940s and then went on to make two of his best films, Ordet in 1955 and Gertrud in 1964. It wouldn't be until after his death in 1968 that much of the rest of the world would discover his films and appreciate the underlying warmth of the message they contained.

Carl Dreyer's movies are in my opinion among the best of all-time and well worth seeking out. He wrote some 49 scripts; several, especially among the earlier ones, were made into films by other directors. He directed only 14 features and 8 shorts himself:

The President (Denmark, 1919)
Leaves From Satan's Book (Denmark, 1921)
The Parson's Widow (Sweden, 1921)
Love One Another (Germany, 1922)
Once upon a Time (Denmark, 1922)
Michael (Germany, 1924)
Master of the House (Denmark, 1925)
The Bride of Glomdal (Norway, 1926)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (France, 1928)
Vampyr (France/Denmark, 1932)
Good Mothers (Denmark, 1942) short
Day of Wrath (Denmark, 1943)
Two People (Sweden, 1945)
Water from the Land (Denmark, 1946) short
The Danish Village Church (Denmark, 1947) short
The Fight against Cancer (Denmark, 1947) short
They Caught the Ferry (Denmark, 1948) short
Thorvaldsen (Denmark, 1949) short
The Storstrøm Bridge (Denmark, 1950) short
A Castle Within a Castle (Denmark, 1954) short
Ordet (Denmark, 1955)
Gertrud (Denmark, 1964)

Probably among the best of these are Leaves from Satan's Book, Love One Another, Michael, Master of the House, The Passion of Joan of Arc (often referred to as his masterpiece), Day of Wrath, and Ordet (which means "The Word" in English).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Are You Ready?"

I wonder how many times I heard that sentence in church growing-up. Today when we say Evangelical we generally think of non or inter-denominational churches, and there are a ton of them. But when I was a kid there weren’t many independent churches, and the closest thing to an Evangelical was a body of churches that usually referred to themselves as Pentecostal. (That’s "Pennycostal" when you’re 10 though.) There was, and is, an actual denomination called the "Pentecostal Church," but the Assemblies and Church of God among others also referred to themselves as a Pentecostal "type" of church, basically meaning that they all believed in the "gifts of the spirit" such as healing and speaking in tongues and so forth. The Baptists were very much out of the same mold minus the gifts thing.

Pentecostals were very big on asking people if they were ready to die. "Where would you go? Are you right with Jesus? Will you make it into Heaven? Do you have that blessed assurance?" Pentecostal church meetings always were a bit of a cliché-fest I’m afraid. Personally, I felt like I was born ready. I always felt that death would be a homecoming of sorts long before anybody told me so. I simply didn’t, and still don’t, fear death at all. But when I was younger there was a part of this equation I was missing.

Now you would think that the Pentecostals, the people who have pushed this "Where would you go tonight if you died?" business the longest, would be the most fearful of death and all the fiery trappings of Hell that go along with that message. Not so. The Catholics are so afraid of death that they invented Purgatory just in case they needed one last chance to get their act together.

The fact is that most people fear death more than words can say. They don’t even want to talk about it. They don’t need any reminders that they’re going to die one day. Most people don’t want to know when their time is coming. They’d sooner be surprised by a conk on the head from a falling meteorite and never know what hit them. But there are some who do in fact know when their time is up and are given a specific time table in which to "get their affairs in order." I find these people ultimately die the best deaths. They’ve made their peace with God and the world. I wonder if this is God’s way of telling us that there is no Purgatory and that those who would have needed a second chance there are getting it now by way of the knowledge that their deaths are imminent?

My dad used to tell a story about a man named Carl who worked on the railroad in East St. Louis during the first half of the 20th century. It was one of those stories about the fragility of life. The story goes that one day Carl was doing some kind of work on a the hitch of a train car. Train yards are usually very noisy environments and he couldn’t hear that the rest of the train behind him was backing up to connect with the car he was working on. It connected right through his mid-section. Amazingly he was still alive and conscious. A doctor was called. He said that there was nothing he could do. The man would soon bleed to death. And when they unhitched the car from the train it would only serve to quicken the man’s death since the gaping hole left behind would cause much of his insides to come pouring out along with more blood, and he would die almost instantly.

They called Carl’s wife and told her the situation, and that she had better get down there quick with the children if they wanted to say goodbye. And this she did. Of course they called his church pastor as well. The preacher said a prayer and Carl’s family kissed him farewell. The man in charge of the train yard asked him if he was ready. Carl said, "Go ahead," and they unhitched the car. He fell down and died. I guess Carl was ready.

Two weeks ago I was with a group of people, some were friends, other I didn’t know, trying to get a big house ready for a wedding as well as for the homecoming of the bride’s father. Kevin was in his last stage of cancer and it took a ventilator to keep him alive. But he wasn’t ready to die just yet. He wanted to see his daughter get married first. The following Saturday he did just that.

It was a happy event. It was a sad event. That night at the reception, everybody’s cell phones started ringing with the message that Kevin’s dad, in his 80s and in a nursing home, died unexpectedly. And Kevin had made arrangements to be taken off life support the next day himself. He got to see his daughter get married first, but also knew he and his dad were suddenly going to be dying a day apart. Despite his having been ready to go, it didn’t stop his little girl from having the saddest honeymoon of all-time with her father and grandfather both dying within 24-hours of the wedding.

Kevin was Catholic, but he didn’t need any Purgatory. He was ready. What does it really mean to be ready? Is there ever any really getting right with God? I doubt it very much. It’s mostly about getting right with our enemies. If we forgive others, God forgives us. Christianity is 90% forgiveness. No amount of prayers or kissing our loved ones goodbye will make us ready to meet our Maker. But can you love your enemy as much as you love yourself? Can you go through life without bitterness toward those who have harmed you and wish them the best? God doesn’t care much about all your accomplishments in business, art, sports, or anything else in life. There’s only one area he demands any real achievement in. It’s all about forgiveness.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I watched a well made film today about, of all things, vampires. I dislike everything about the subject of vampires for the most part and avoid books and movies about them like I avoid taxes. I happened onto it by accident really. It was called Let the Right One In. It’s a Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson (who also directed last year’s box office and critical success, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and written by fellow Swede John Ajvide Lindqvist. Let the Right One In is about a boy, Oskar, and a girl, Eli, both 12-years of age. The boy is bullied in school and an outcast. When the girl moves in next door, he finally has a friend, but he has no idea that she’s a vampire or that her father has to go out at night to procure victims for her, bringing home their blood in a jug. In one scene, after her father fails to bring home provisions, she has to go out and do it herself. After lying under a bridge pretending to need help, a man comes to her rescue and she kills him, draining his blood. Then she sits over him and weeps for having done it. She almost seems to have a conscience at times. Later, however, she thinks nothing of taking the blood of her dying father after he tries to commit suicide. She then lets his body fall from his hospital window and watches with no emotion as he hits the ground several floors below. Eli is as hot and cold as it gets.

I routinely rate movies and other artwork by content and style. I’m now realizing that this is a flawed rating system. This film has plenty of style. The cinematography is quite good though dark and brooding, and the acting is pretty good considering how young most of the talent is. The content is strange and otherworldly, certainly unlike any other vampire film. Most people would say it’s not a vampire film at all. It’s a movie about the love between a boy and a girl who just happens to be a vampire. But style and content aside, something is missing.

While we’re still children, our lives are all about emotion, not so different from a dog or a cat except we express it differently. We generally don’t give too much thought to God or metaphysical ideas as children even if we go to church regularly. Kids are too busy having fun, or trying to have it. They live to make themselves happy and darn little else. A child mostly alternates between being very happy, very sad, very angry, or very afraid. Those are the four chief emotions of childhood. Even love is just something to make us happy. There’s seldom any real altruism in children. They only give in order to get. If we have someone to teach us about Jesus, then hopefully we’ll grow-up to be altruistic people with well balanced emotions of nearly every kind (at least every kind worth having). A child can get very sad, but seldom do they get extremely depressed to the point of hopelessness because they know they still have their whole lives in front of them and anything can happen. But if we don’t get any kind of spiritual training as children, we run the risk of having severe bouts of depression during our adult years. Life can at times seem very bleak to someone without a God, especially as he/she gets older. They no longer have the bulk of their lives in front of them, and soon they run out of hope.

This is what I see in so many Swedish films. So many Russian films. And the past couple of decades in British films. There’s very little belief in God in those countries. And there’s an undeniable bleakness in most of their art. This is not a coincidence. We were born to seek out the face and favor of God just as a tree stretches higher and higher to the sun all its days. A tree knows there’s nourishment in the suns rays. All it’s hope is in that sun, balanced of course with small amounts of rain and earth. Likewise there’s a nourishment to a human’s existence that only comes from fellowship with God. Christians talk about spiritual growth. God’s spirit flows to us and through us like the sun’s rays to a tree. Without it life is very bleak indeed. Man does not live by bread alone. He needs something to nourish his spirit as well as his body.

In watching Swedish films or listening to Swedish music, not only do I see that bleakness, I see people acting like automatons. Their musicians just go through the motions as though they’re painting by numbers. There’s no heart in their songs because there’s no God in their hearts.

We who live in nations that are primarily Christian produce most of the world’s greatest art and always have. Again, this is no coincidence. We know the purpose of life and live to fulfill it. That extreme happiness, sadness, anger, and fear we wallowed in as children becomes tempered as we grow-up by faith, hope, and love as St. Paul says. But there’s also a fourth item just as important, and that’s forgiveness. To forgive and to be forgiven is the key ingredient in all spiritual growth. Sometimes when people say they forgive someone, they may still look askance at them as if to say, “I forgive you, but I’ll never trust you.” That’s not real forgiveness. God’s eyes are not leery. Neither should ours be. But I don’t want to turn this into a sermon on forgiveness.

I want to end this little sermonette with a song from Ireland—one of the few remaining countries in Europe that still has a large amount of Christian believers. It was written by Francis McPeake around 1950 and is called properly “Wild Mountain Thyme.” (It sometimes goes by other names like “Will Ye Go Lassie Go” or “Bloomin’ Heather.”) McPeak’s song was largely inspired by a much earlier poem from Robert Tannahill, but McPeake took it to a different place. (He was Presbyterian I believe.) It may look merely like a song about romantic love, and that’s no doubt what Francis meant it to be. But like so much that comes from the art of the Irish, you can’t help but feel something of God in it too. And isn’t that as it should be? Shouldn’t the spirit of God permeate everything we do, even without us thinking about it? I often find myself singing this song at work when no one’s around, and I re-imagine it as God singing it to us the way the “Song of Solomon” is so often said to be a poem about the love of God for the church. Can you not see the Lord with his hand extended saying, “Will ye go?”

Wild Mountain Thyme

O the summer time is comein'
And the trees are sweetly bloomin'
And the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the bloomin' heather.
Will ye go, lassie, go?

And we'll all go together,
To pull wild mountain thyme,
All around the bloomin' heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

I will build my love a tower
By yon clear crystal fountain,
Aye an' on it I will build
All the flowers of the mountain.
Will ye go, lassie, go?

And we'll all go together,
To pull wild mountain thyme,
All around the bloomin' heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

If my true love she were gone,
I would surely find another,
To pull wild mountain thyme,
All around the bloomin' heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

And we'll all go together,
To pull wild mountain thyme,
All around the bloomin' heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

Monday, February 20, 2012

In Response to Thoughtlessness (or—The Atheist Mind)

The following is an excerpt taken from the transcripts of a lecture given by the famous philosopher, Mr. Billy Brightish, at the equally famous policy institute, WHATTHINKUM U, in the great Southwestern village of Albuquirky. The extract actually comes from the question/answer portion at the end of the talk (but before the widely reported police intervention) when one particular young man (and aren't they always young) came to the mic to challenge Mr. Brightish. The lecture presented an analytical breakdown of the spurious inferences and irrational suppositions of the atheist mind presented in its varied art forms today with a particular emphasis on television and film.

"You in the pink muscle-shirt and sandals. What is your question?"

Q: Sir, I'd like to know what gives you the right to criticize writing in film, television, or anywhere else? It's interesting to me when people who don't work in a particular field criticize the craftsmanship of an artist.

A: Hmm...(pause). I fail to see anything at all interesting in it. I don't make cars, but, like most people, I can easily tell you everything that's wrong with mine. I'm not a barber, but, I know perfectly well when my hair is cut right or when it's uneven; when it's been left too long or cut too short. You don't seem to know this, but I actually am an author. It wouldn't matter, however, if I was not. I would still be a conversationalist. I have thoughts and theories. I'm a philosopher. I'm a metaphysician. I'm a logician. I'm a dreamer. I am every man. And like most men, I know poor dialog when I hear it or see it. I know poor logic, poor sentence structure, whining, cliché's, theoretical impracticalities, a priori arguments, baseless conjecturing, opinions established on mere sentiment along with the vulgar sophistry that is so much a part of the atheistic mindset in the world of art.

Picasso used a fair amount of symbolism in his work. Unfortunately, his paintings and sculptures seldom said anything when reconstructed. Even a poor logician like Freud would agree that sometimes a nude is just a nude and a beggar just a beggar. Unless a work of art tells a story, it fails as art, but may please as mere esthetic. I find over and over that atheist artists either fail to say anything useful, or they say something worse than useless, and that is an untruth.

Let us consider the recent web series The Confession. You may think important questions are asked in the show. I say that the queries are childlike and the responses inconsiderate. Our doltish gunman played by Kiefer Sutherland posed a surmisal a few episodes back that came wrapped in the kind of irreality this series will be known for (if it's to be known for anything at all) when he suggested, no—declared—that there were more murders done in the name of religion that anything else. Even during the crusades Christians only killed 100,000—a drop in the bucket compared to atheists. Atheists have killed more people during the past hundred years than all the religions of the world combined during the past two thousand. Mao killed 70 million; Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev killed 66.7 million; Brezhnev 900,000; Mussolini 300,000; Pol Pot 1,700,000 for starters.

Q: People do not kill in the name of atheism. If an atheist communist kills a large number of people, he did not kill them because he was an atheist but because of ideologies.

A: What's in a name? How about if I say they kill in the spirit of atheism? What all those mass murderers had in common was atheism and Social Darwinism. Genocide is the logical outcome of Social Darwinism carried out to its conclusion. I've yet to see a genocidal Social Darwinist who was not an atheist. Some might argue that Hitler was one, but I would counter with the fact that he would claim to be a Pagan to one group of people and a Christian to another group down the road. It seems fairly obvious to me that he didn't really believe in anything but his own selfish desires.

Q: But atheism is not a belief. It doesn't tell you what is right or wrong, it doesn't have a moral conduct, and it doesn't tell you how to live your life. It is ONLY a rejection of a specific belief.

A: I disagree. It is no mere a negation. The only people it isn't a belief for are those who have never heard of it, nor of concepts of God. That might entail a few tribesmen in a remote village who have had no contact with the rest of the world. A person like that can be an atheist without knowing it. It's doubtful, however, that this would include anyone anywhere since every single known language in the history of the world has a word for God. At any rate, for anyone who has heard of a God concept, atheism is of course a choice, and you cannot make a choice without forming an opinion, which in this case is what you mean when you say belief.

Further, atheism is the worship of self. Its code of conduct is selfishness. And this is why every single known genocidal Social Darwinist has been an atheist. Both ideologies are completely egocentric.

You also cannot be an atheist without being an adherent of naturalism, empiricism, and humanism among other cockamamie beliefs. Atheism is an entire belief system. Naturalism, incidentally, makes no room for free will. And of course, since free will is obvious to all mankind, atheism is foolishness. Or do you really think that the reason people all over the world stop at a red light is because the random particles of the universe just happened to make them all do this?

Q: "It is an absolute failure of logic at best to suggest atheism kills people."

A: Atheism is a worship of self interest at the expense of all others. It's a philosophy that says, "Do what thou wilt." It's a philosophy that says, "Nothing matters." It's a philosophy that says, "There are no consequences for my actions." Atheism is nothing short of a recipe for murder and insanity.

Q: "I suggest you have an irrational hatred of atheism."

A: This is the way a child argues. He lies. He calls dislike—hate. He calls the rational—irrational. And it's exactly what I expect from an atheist. Atheism is the most childish and thoughtless of all metaphysical suggestions. It abhors science, and it abhors reason. Therefore it must lie to make even an artificial point.

Q: "Claiming atheists kill more people than anyone else is equivilant to...."

A: I gave a verifiable list of genocidal events carried out by atheists that amounted to well over a 100-million murders in the last hundred years alone. If there is a similar verifiable list of anywhere near that amount in a hundred year period pertaining to a religious person or group, I've never come across it, and you haven't offered one. Is there any chance you'll say something truthful at some point?

Q: "Social Darwinism is directly contrary to evolution"

A: Hogwash. Evolution is about natural selection in conjunction with survival of the fittest, part of which is the fighting to the death of organisms and animals. A Cuckoo Bird pushes eggs from other birds such as Warblers, out of their nests, and places her own eggs in it. After the chick hatches, it will push any remaining eggs and/or hatched Warbler chicks out of the nest and then spend its remaining days, before fledgling, imitating the call of Warbler chicks so that the Warbler parent will feed it. This kind of killing is a part of Darwinism. This is exactly what Social Darwinists do.

Q: How'd you like me to kill....

End of extract.