Monthly Archives: October 2011

America’s #1 Killer

Every year, it kills more people than cancer and heart disease put together.

It kills twice the number of people as the remaining 8 of the top ten “official” causes of death put together (AIDS doesn’t even chart).

Every year, it kills twice the total number of Americans who’ve died from AIDS in the 30+ year history of the epidemic (approx. 18,000 year year die of AIDS).

Every year, it kills twice as many Americans as all of our war casualties in the last 100 years put together.

Since 1972, it has killed more Americans than the total number of people killed by Hitler and Stalin combined.

Since 1976, there have been a total of approx. 1260 executions in the United States.  Since 1972, there have been 50,000,000 legal abortions and counting.

Yet people say that the death penalty is a more important issue.  They say that war is a more important issue.  They say that “health care reform” is a more important issue.

People parade for veterans and for war memorials.  They parade for cancer and heart disease.  They parade for AIDS.  Do they parade for the unborn?

People protest violently outside of military bases in the name of “peace.”

They protest violently on Wall Street to protest corporate greed.

They protest outside prisons to protest the death penalty.

Heck, they protest outside monasteries to promote the “rights” of chickens!

Yet a handful of pro-lifers gather in front of Planned Parenthood to silently protest, pray, and/or engage in sidewalk counseling, and they’re labelled freaks, terrorists, or extremists.  They’re hit with racketeering lawsuits.

And *this* is what the George-Soros funded “Occupy” Protests are all about

TI know a lot of Catholics are supporting these George Soros funded “Occupy Wall Street/etc.” Protests because they rightly oppose the worship of Mammon, but the protests are nothing more than repackaged Communism, a repeat of what happened in 1789 and 1968.  To prove it, the so-called “Occupy Rome” protestors attacked Lateran Square, and desecrated a Catholic Church, pulling a statue of our Blessed Lady into the streets and shattering it.

These people are evil.  It breaks my heart to see such evil being celebrated by the media and the political Left.

“Phantom 25” is THE definitive production!

I just got back from seeing the last theatrical showing of _Phantom of the Opera: 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall_.  WOW.

Sorry, Joel Schumacher, but this IS the definitive production of “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera“.   As far as the production itself, I have one minor quibble: no “We’re ruined, Andre!  Ruined!”  Otherwise, it blew me away.

1.  My major criticism of the 2004 film is how they handle “The Point of No Return.”  If you only know the movie and/or the recordings, and you have never read the libretto, seen it on stage or watched a documentary, you might not realize that it’s not supposed to be “the Phantom” in that song.

The song is a show-within-a-show (technical term for that being “masque”) song.  They are performing the Phantom’s own opera, _Don Juan Triumphant_, per his demands, hoping to catch him when he shows up for it.  They’re *expecting* him to appear in his infamous Box 5, and they have a marksman trained on that box.

In _Don Juan Triumphant_, Don Juan, played by Ubaldo Piangi, is posing as his friend, Passarino, in order to woo his maidservant.  So the character on stage is wearing this big cloak and hood.  It’s “supposed to be” Piangi (in the show’s “reality”) playing the role of Don Juan himself posing as Passarino.  However, what the characters don’t know, and what the audience may or may not know, is that the Phantom kills Piangi between appearances and comes out dressed in the big cloak: so it’s the Phantom posing as Piangi playing Don Juan posing as Passarino.  There are multiple layers of disguise and trickery and unveiling involved: it’s brilliant.  By the end of the song, Christine realizes it’s the Phantom and removes the hood for all to see, but no one acts.  Then she rips off his white mask and shows his disfigured face to everyone, and he kidnaps her.

Of course, in the movie, there’s no disguise at all, for whatever reason, and the scene doesn’t make sense because no one bothers to shoot him.

In the live production I saw in 1994, and in the recordings, you can at least recognize that the guy singing is the Phantom and not Piangi, so you don’t understand why Christine, at least, hasn’t figured it out or why the other characters can’t at least tell it’s not Piangi.

That’s where the genius of this version comes in.  They actually cast a guy as Piangi who sounds a lot like Ramin Karimloo (albeit with an accent), and Karimloo (who originated the Phantom in _Love Never Dies_, played Raoul in an earlier production and played Msgr. Daae in a flashback in the movie, making him the only actor to play all three of the men in Christine’s life) mimicks an Italian accent for “Point of No Return.”  I was actually wondering if they were doing something different and it *was* Piangi singing.

2.  Sierra Boggess is AMAZING.  She impressed me on the _Love Never Dies_ album, but her performance here is top-notch, and it’s great that it’s preserved.  Her “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” is literally a showstopper: the audience cheer, encore style, for at least 2 minutes after she finishes.

Her acting is so good, she steals the show even she she’s not singing.

3.  Of course, at these kinds of events, it’s what happens “after” the show that’s almost as important.  I must admit some mild disappointment, here.
After the encores, Andrew Lloyd Webber came out and made a little speech.  He acknowledged some of the behind the scenes people who’d died since 1986, particularly designer Maria Bjornson.  Then he welcomes to the stage Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Charles Hart, Gillian Lynne, and somebody else, but there’s no mention of Richard Stilgoe.

Then he welcomes (most of) the surviving members of the 1986 original cast.  He pays respect to the original cast members who have died.  Then he introduces “one more person,” Michael Crawford, to much applause, joking that Crawford has run over from the London Paladium (where he is staring in “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s _The Wizard of Oz_,” which ALW is producing in the “tradition” _Sound of Music_ and _Oliver_, but, in this case, he has added music to make it a sung through music).   Apparently, to save his energy for playing the Wizard, Crawford did not sing, other than in groups.

Then his lordship starts with the infomercial “But wait, there’s more” bit, and introduces Sarah Brightman.  Then he says there’s “one more surprise” and that Sarah’s going to sing.  OK, but there’s still *one* more surprise that Andrew doesn’t introduce.

And here’s here I have to express a bit of disappointment: especially when I saw what they did, it would have been good to see Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum appear for the finale, as well as Steve Harley, who intended for the role when ALW was originally thinking of a rock opera, and he did the music video of the title song with Sarah B. in 1984.

In the absence of at least seeing those other two “Phantoms” or hearing Michael Crawford sing, they gave one more surprise who didn’t get vocal credit.

In the “show” part, the title song was done with more orchestral emphasis.  They had some electric guitar riffs in the very last part, but they downplayed the electric bass in the song.

So, after Andrew announced Sarah was going to sing and stepped aside, the electric bass started, then the organ, and then the electric guitar and drum machine for the 1984 single/2004 movie version.

Sarah started singing, and as she sang the first verse, the back doors of the stage opened, and four silouhettes walked out.  Four former Phantoms, the way they did the “Valjeans” in the two _Les Miserables_ anniversary concerts.  Three of them were not recognizable to the average person (which is why Butler or Harley would’ve been nice), BUT the most prominent of them was none other than Jean Valjean himself, Colm Wilkinson!!!  The four Phantoms alternated the second and third verses.   When it came to where the “ghostly voices” sing “He’s there, the Phantom of the Opera,” *everyone* sang: the 100 person cast of the show we just saw, plus the original cast members (and Michael), and even the writers and producers and directors.  I think the only one who wasn’t shown visibly singing was ALW.

The Four Phantoms alternated yelling “sing for me,” and then Ramin Karimloo came back over and sang the last one.

Then on the big screen behind everyone, they projected the time cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber holding the Phantom mask, and everyone singing,  “We have brought you to the seat of sweet music’s throne, to this kingdom where all must pay homage to music, music. . . . We have come here for one person and one alone: since the moment you first heard us sing, you have needed us with you to serve you to sing, all his music, his music . . . . ”
And Colm steps forward and sings, “Nighttime, sharpens. . . . ”
That time, it was the four and Karimloo, but still no singing from Michael Crawford.

I just can’t say enough how great it was.  The DVD comes out in the US in February.

I don’t know about the US, but in the UK, the weekend it opened, the live  _Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary_ was second ranked feature of *any* kind that weekend, and the highest performer on Sunday.  It was the highest grossing “alternative cinema event” ever in the UK.

The _Original London Cast Recording_ is still one of the all-time best selling albums of any kind in history, and the worldwide ticket sales for the stage production alone (much less the recordings and movie) still rank it as the highest grossing “entertainment production” in history, more than any other stage show or movie.

Sometimes, a Formica Table is Just a Formica Table

Last year, _Psych_ did a fantastic tribute to _Twin Peaks_ to mark the cult classic’s 20th anniversary.  Starting off as a huge hit and the topic of discussion around the country, it quickly plummeted in the ratings and was abruptly cancelled after a total of 30 episodes, but David Lynch’s groundbreaking series literally changed television.  Several series quickly came along to imitate some aspect or another of what made _Twin Peaks_ revolutionary.  Shows like _Northern Exposure_ and _Picket Fences_ played on the whole “quirky small town” motif.  _The X-Files_ picked up on the idea of paranormal mystery, unorthodox FBI agents and an overarching mystery (David Duchovony played a DEA agent on TP) . _Homicide_ picked up on the idea of bringing critically acclaimed film directors to TV and having an overarching story.  Many cable series of the past 20 years have owed a great deal to _Twin Peaks_, as have more recent (and more popular) paranormal mysteries like _Fringe_ and _Lost_.  Samantha Mulder, Adena Watson and Trudy Monk are all the younger cousins of Laura Palmer.  And perhaps its greatest claim to fame is how, for a short lived TV series, it introduced a number of then-young actors and actresses who went on to successful careers in TV and/or movies.

While the series has only made a few appearances over the years in reruns in the land of 500 channels, it has been very successful in the world of DVD and online streaming, and I’ve been watching it on Netflix this past few weeks.

David Lynch and Mark Frost hoped to use television to explore both artistic and social themes that interested them in a way that film was too limited to deal with, and they felt that the genres of mystery and soap opera were best suited to dealing with those themes.

Starting with the iconic image of a dead girl found wrapped in plastic along a riverbank, they captivated the country with a murder mystery that was supposed to symbolize “mystery” in the philosophical or theological sense: apocalypse, the continuously unveiling mystery of human existence.   While an untimely death triggers questions of “how” and “why” and “whodunit,” the deeper question is really, “What comes next?”  Indeed, at least two characters, the recluse Harold Smith and the villain Windom Earle, say that death is the great mystery, and that the dead are lucky because they get the answer to the greatest mystery of all.  We on earth will never get the answer to that mystery, and the series’ untimely cancellation is a fitting end to that theme.

While the cosmology of _Twin Peaks_ is decidedly New Age and shows more overt favor to Buddhist and Native American worldviews, it is still more easily compatible with Christianity than similar efforts.  Interestingly, where most TV shows (cf. _Little House on the Prairie_, _The Andy Griffith Show_) claiming to represent “small town America” avoid denominational questions and have most of the characters practicing some vague Protestantism (satirized on _The Simpsons_ as the “Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism”), the residents of fictional Twin Peaks, WA, are apparently mostly Catholics (or very high church Protestants): many homes (most notably that of good guy Major Briggs) have crucifixes on the walls, the minister wears a collar and vestments, and Norma Jennings’ sister Annie comes back to town having left the convent.  Of course, it would still be nice to have a TV show or movie where Christianity is honored for more than just being one of many paths to “spiritual enlightenment” or getting it right about the Devil.

In any case, the creators never intended to solve the murder of Laura Palmer.  They funded the pilot as a standalone movie, released in Europe, and added some extra footage that resolved the mystery at the end of that film version, however abruptly.  An incident where a set worker named Frank Silva got trapped on set, and another incident where Silva’s image got accidentally caught on screen in a mirror, both inspired Lynch to create a character around Silva.  So, in the original film version of the pilot, Silva is “Bob,” a random hospital maintenance worker who turns out to be a serial killer, who lives above a convenience store with a one armed man named “Mike.”  This footage is reworked in the TV version as Agent Cooper’s infamous dream at the end of the second episode.  In the series, “Bob” and “Mike” are “inhabiting spirits,” but the series ended before anything further could be developed, and different interpretations have been floated: are they demons?  Are they spirits of dead killers from the past?  Reincarnated?  Aliens?  Many of the shows’ creators admitted that they made stuff up as they went, and that was perfectly in line with Lynch’s idea of ever-folding mystery.  Indeed, had _Twin Peaks_ survived, it might have been much like what _The X-Files_ became: a potentially straightforward fictional mythology unnecessarily complicated by the need to keep resolving *and* keep unraveling.

Many viewers grew impatient with how long it was taking to resolve the Palmer killing.  ABC demanded that they wrap it up.  In real life, the majority of murders are either solved in “the first 48” or else can take years.  On television, viewers are used to getting the resolutions to murder mysteries in a week or two.  So on a series that would taken on many decidedly surreal and absurd aspects, the narrative “dragging out” of the Laura Palmer mystery was actually a realistic aspect.  The pilot aired on April 8, 1990.  The killer was revealed to audiences on December 1, 1990.  On the show, Laura Palmer’s body was found on February 24, 1989.  Her killer is identified and arrested on March 11, 1989.  Ironically, in some ways this is unrealistically fast.

Similarly, many of the aspects the show considered quirky or “unrealistic” or bizarre are quite mundane, just alien to our sensibilities of what a television show should involve.  Many of the “strange” personalities we encounter in _Twin Peaks_ are strange for a TV show but very similar to people we know in our own lives.  In one scene in the season 2 premiere, Agent Cooper and Sherriff Truman go to question a patient in the hospital, and Sheriff Truman fumbles with an adjustable stool that won’t work–the kind of thing that happens to all of us on a daily basis but never happens to TV characters.  The hospital food is oddly colored baby food, which may not be realistic of how hospital food *is* but of how it is often perceived.  Characters go to the bathroom.  Even strange dreams are something we all experience, and we talk about, and we try to derive meaning in our lives from what we see in our dreams.  Yet we just find it strange to see a TV show where characters have strange dreams, talk about them, and try to derive meaning from them.

In the creators’ original vision for the series, Laura Palmer’s many connections to the various residents of the town, with their various secret lives, would lead the police to numerous crimes.  As they sought out the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer, they would uncover various crimes and arrest various bad guys, much as _The X-Files_ would later alternate its “monster of the week” and “mythology” episodes.

For all the articles and websites, critics’ theories and fans’ theories, people often miss the mark entirely because the truth is so plain as day.

A few weeks ago, when I started my review of the series, what struck me was the inherent critique of evidence.   Agent Cooper, the FBI profiler who relies on Tibetan meditation, is skeptical of Dr. Jacoby, the Psychiatrist, calling Jacoby’s craft (which ought to be Cooper’s) “mumbo jumbo.”  One of the reasons that viewers found the Palmer case frustrating was that the kind of straight up circumstantial evidence that would lead to an arrest in a real life murder case or even in the average mystery story, was constantly undermined (as parodied in a _Saturday Night Live_ sketch when Kyle Machlachlan “hosted” in September 1990: Sheriff Truman comes to Agent Cooper with a video tape of Leo Johnson killing Laura Palmer, and Cooper refuses to accept it).  FBI forensics specialist Albert Rosenfield gives a minute analysis of all the fibers found at the scene, but while the physical evidence allows them to recreate the events of Laura Palmer’s last night, and to determine how she was killed, it tells them nothing of the killer.  Physical evidence pointing to particular killers is undermined by their unshakable alibis for related crimes.   At a  time when DNA evidence was just coming into common use, but when blood typing was the accepted method for discerning such matters, the police in this fictional murder were stymied  by a murder where the victim had had intercourse with multiple men on the day before she died and where the victim’s body was covered in blood from multiple individuals.  Testimony is equally untrustworthy, as so many of the town’s residence are living lies, yet certain people with seemingly bizarre stories and visions and oracles are accepted implicitly.  All of this goes to challenge our concepts of evidence and build on the whole point of how life is ultimately a mystery that we try to solve.

When we look at the ineffability of it all, and how, as I noted, most of what is considered “strange” about _Twin Peaks_ is only really strange because we don’t expect to see such ordinary life in a TV show, we really get to the point.  I came across a website with a lot of quotations from the creators, and in many of the quotations  from David Lynch, he talks about how the “point” is not the plot but the experience.  Just as T. S. Eliot said poetry is about painting a picture with words, creating a unique experience, Lynch argues that film does the same thing, and he challenges plot in order to emphasize experience.  _Twin Peaks_ is about coffee and pie, beautiful women and beautiful trees, warm family dinners and romantic interludes.  That’s what draws people in, and that’s what they’re supposed to get out of it: the feeling. I was formulating these thoughts and came across this article which gets to the same point: Lynch is often regarded as a surrealist, but he is also a Formalist (like Eliot), though particularly a Formalist of the Russian school.  In one of the dream sequences in the prequel movie, _Fire Walk With Me_, the Dwarf points to a table and says to Agent Cooper, “This is a formica table.  Green is its color.”

Sometimes, a formica table is just a formica table.  It doesn’t have to mean anything else, but we want to it mean something, and we want our fiction to “mean” something other than what it is.  This is the author’s frustration with the critic.  In the first dream sequence of the televised version, which, as I noted above, was constructed from material used in the European theatrical version of the pilot, “Mike,” the One Armed Man, says, “We lived among the people.  I think you say convenience store?  We lived above it.  I mean it like it is. . . . Like it sounds.”  Of course, where that footage was originally used, it was completely literal.  In the show’s context, though, spoken in a dream, it addresses that theme of formalism.

Most of the “codes” in Agent Cooper’s dreams are fairly straightforward.  Laura Palmer says in one dream, “Sometimes, my arms bend back,” and the next day they learn that Laura’s arms were tied behind her back.  In our own lives, the things in our dreams which sometimes seem the strangest and most memorable are, when we start to think, very clearly representations of what we experienced the day before.  In _Twin Peaks_, dreams are premonitions, sorting in code what one is going to experience in the next day or two, rather than what one has experienced in previous days.

And that, too, challenges our need for evidence and our need for explanations.

The Problem With Celibacy

I have been leaning in this direction for several years now, but I just recently put my finger on what it is.  For a long time, I have been fascinated with the theology and liturgy of the East, and the more exposure I have to it, the more enthralled I’ve become.  While I accept the theology of the Roman Catholic Church, I really think some serious errors have crept in over the past 1000 years where the Eastern Churches have it right.  One of these is the ban on ordination of married men (which is not the same thing as “allowing priests to marry”).  

I’ve long felt that celibacy breeds a certain demeanor among Roman priests–especially when compared to the Byzantine and Antiochene priests I’ve known–and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

We call a priest “Father” because he is supposed to be the “Father” of the community, and one of the arguments for mandatory celibacy is that the lack of a family frees the priest to be available to anyone, anytime. That is certainly a strong point, and a struggle that married Catholic priests endure. 

However, in practice, there’s a certain aloofness.  I recently heard a priest, talking about a Retrovaille weekend, say, addressing those still discerning, that one of the blessings of being celibate is that you can come home at night, and there’s no one there to bug you.  I thought, “Isn’t the whole point of celibacy that you are free to be ‘bugged’?  Isn’t a priest supposed to be ‘bugged’?”

I often say that there are many ways to assess a “good” priest: theological orthodoxy, liturgical correctness, moral uprightness, spirituality, and a loving and friendly demeanor.  Rarely does a priest demonstrate all of these characteristics. 

And of all the priests I’ve known, even the ones who were extremely orthodox or extremely spiritual, a loving and friendly demeanor is still a rarity.  I think the average layperson would agree with this assessment.  It’s one of the major reasons that Catholics defect for other religions: Catholicism often comes off as cold and unwelcoming compared to other religious communities, and that comes from the attitudes presented by priests.  When I first thought of this the other day, I phrased it as, “Generally speaking, the Catholic Church would function a lot better if _All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten_ were required reading in seminaries.”

Priests with a healthy spiritual life can come off as aloof because of their detachment and mystical nature.  Priests who are theologically and morally orthodox can come off as rigid.  Priests who are worldly or liberal can often feign a friendly manner or being “down to earth” in their preaching and liturgical practice but are usually reserved when dealing with people one on one.  Then there are those who get favored by the hierarchy for pragmatic reasons because they’re good managers or bookkeepers, regardless of their “people skills,” or the ones who see it as a power trip.

So, what does this have to do with celibacy?  Well, besides the psychological comfort having a wife or children can give a man, look at it this way:

1) As noted regarding those with healthy spiritual lives, a priest who is sexually and psychologically healthy needs to avoid temptation.  General aloofness is one of the strategies that holy priests use to protect their chastity.  It gets back to the whole idea of how priests are supposed to shun “particular friendships”, both male and female.  This ties in to both spiritual detachment and the sense of moral rigidity.  
2) Then there are those for whom celibacy “comes easy,” or for whom it’s an attraction in the priesthood, exemplified by the comment that inspired these thoughts.  If a man joins the priesthood because he doesn’t like people and doesn’t want to be bothered, what kind of priest is he going to be?  Indeed, any true expert on the priesthood or religious life says that lack of social skills is a sign that one does *not* have a vocation. Whether in a monastery or parish life, a priest has to deal with people.  But often in practice, men are drawn to the priesthood so they can be isolated.
3) Then again, we have those who often get mentioned in these discussions: the ones who use official celibacy as a cover for sexual license, regardless of their inclinations.  There is at least one city in Europe where the historic cardinal’s palace is literally across the way from the cardinal’s mistress’s palace.  Everyone knows that during the height of “Christendom,” most bishops had mistresses and children; they just weren’t “married.”  When my wife visited Haiti in college, the priest there said that the vast majority of priests kept mistresses or even had civil marriages!  Then there’s the whole “homosexual subculture” thing.  So, these priests living double lives maintain a certain aloofness in their priesthood to disguise their double lives.  And, often, it’s the priests who *are* gregarious and seemingly act the way a priest should act who turn out to be living double lives.  Consider the former Fr. Francis Mary, MFVA, of EWTN/_Life on the Rock_.

Conversely, when there are priests who are married, and when there is a thriving diaconate working side by side with the priests, at least the married clerics can serve the “loving and gregarious” role of pastoral life, and maybe some of that rubs off on the celibate clerics.  Indeed, in the Byzantine tradition, it is said that the priest represents the “spiritual” fatherhood of the bishop, while the deacon represents the actual fatherhood of the bishop, dealing more one-on-one with the parishioners and getting involved in their day-to-day lives.