Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
‘Strikingly beautiful’ biopic of John Keats; new mystery from James Lee Burke

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 12, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

The great Australian director Jane Campion (The Piano) has taken the story of the life and death of the English Romantic poet John Keats and made it into a lyrical period piece, Bright Star, that is strikingly beautiful.

It is 1818, the Regency period in England, and John Keats (Ben Whishaw) is struggling as a young poet who has received very bad notices from the critics, except for a few friends. He is dependent on another poet, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) for a place to stay and food. The beautiful Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) moves in next door with her single-parent Mom, a brother and a delightful young sister named Toots (Edie Martin).

Slowly, Fanny and John begin to be attracted to one another and fall in love. Fanny is from a more wealthy background. Keats is so poor that, according to the customs of the time, he can never ask to marry Fanny unless something “miracle-like” would change in his financial world. His poems are never popular during his life time.

Director of photography Greig Fraser, under the guidance of Campion, gives us some of the most beautiful scenes of a “more sunny than normal” England. The sensuality of the unrequited love between Fanny and John is shown in the smelling of flowers, elaborate dances, the collecting of butterflies and in the holding of hands.

The struggle for the ability to bring their love to unity increases as Keats becomes seriously ill with tuberculosis. The poetry of Keats is deeply affected by the love he has for Fanny.

Friends seek to send Keats to Rome for the winter so that he might have a better chance to live. He eventually accepts their kindness, although this becomes extremely painful for Fanny.

The performance by 27-year-old Australian actress Abbie Cornish is especially powerful. She convincingly plays the 18-year-old Fanny. The scene where she hears of Keats’ death in Rome is filled with anguish. Ben Whishaw as the frail Keats is able to show us his struggle, at first in falling in love with Fanny, and yet also show us his deep love for her as he must leave for Rome.

The irony is, of course, that Keats becomes recognized as one of the greatest of all English poets after his death, and indeed would have been extraordinarily wealthy had he lived.

Bright Star is a movie made for the viewer who longs for an old-fashioned period movie that moves slowly and wants you to see the beauty of nature and of young love.

Bright Star is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) by the Motion Picture Association of America. As one reviewer said, it is a chaste movie that at the same time is sexy.

Book Review

James Lee Burke, who lives part of the year in Missoula, has a new mystery-thriller out called Rain Gods. The book is published by Simon & Schuster of New York in hardcover at a list price of $25.99.

Some mystery writers focus almost completely on a fast-moving plot. Burke gives wonderful descriptions of place and weather as he tells his story. His characters can be fairly complicated and are dealing with lots of issues from their past. There are subtle statements of a theological nature with overtones of justice and mercy. He even takes on subjects such as angels and celibacy. And admittedly there are lots of “bad guys” with much violence.

The main character in Rain Gods is Hackberry Holland, the sheriff of a small Texan town not far from the Mexican border. He must be in his late 70s, because he was a prisoner in the Korean War in 1950 when he must have been at least 18. Holland suffers from sciatica of the lower back. The memories and dreams of that cruel time impact him almost daily.

Hack, as he is called, has a Deputy Sheriff, Pam Tibbs, who is always looking out for his safety and seeks a deeper connection with him.

Nine Asian women who are being sold for sex are found on the U.S. side of the border brutally murdered and buried in a shallow grave near an abandoned church in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction.

The story moves rapidly as we have a conflict with federal agents and begin to meet the large number of underworld characters from Texas, New Orleans and beyond. Sometimes the bad guys are trying to kill other bad guys, plus the people who just happen to be able to identify one of the killers or happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The character Jack Collins, called the Preacher, is an extraordinary evil murderer who occasionally releases people he has captured. But there are lots of others on the dark side, some of whom are trying to kill the delusional serial killer before he kills them.

Hackberry Holland is very likable character who is indeed wounded. His journey for justice amid his own personal struggle with past memories makes for an intriguing story that stays with you.

Recently Received

Medical Doctor Peter E. Dans has recently published a large compendium of short articles on religious movies, titled Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. The publisher is Rowman & Littlefield under the Sheed and Ward name. The textbook style volume is listed at $49.95.

Christians in the Movies would be a helpful book for a parish that used films in either a teaching or entertaining mode in bringing parishioners together. The high price of the book would probably make it impractical for most parishes. It would have been much more widely useful if it had been printed for a lower price in softcover.

Dans starts with The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ in 1905 and goes through 2008’s Doubt. He gives a synopsis of the plot of the story and than gives his personal commentary. You may well disagree with his interpretation and still find the comments helpful. For example, he sees a film like True Confessions (1981) as basically anti-Catholic and he explains his reasoning. And yet there are short sections of the film that to me have given a strong interpretation of what the life of a priest is like. The scene where the powerful Msgr. Des Spellacy (Robert De Niro) comes home to his plain bedroom and opens his closet with only a few clothes is poignant. His aloneness struck me as real.

The author argues that the Production Code and the Legion of Decency helped produce better films than the wide-open world after the 1970s. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the great films of 1939, from Mr. Smith goes to Washington to Goodbye Mr. Chips and Gone with the Wind there may be some truth to that argument. I enjoy the classic films of the studio era very much but there are still great films like Babette’s Feast and The Ninth Day that come out of the world we live in. He does recognize this fact in his discussion of such films. He is particularly hard on The Godfather for its anti-Catholicism and violence. I agree it is a very violent film, but it is also a great film


A small book titled A journey to the Retreat Centers of British Columbia by Derek Cameron was recently published by Eremitical Press of Point Roberts, Washington in soft cover for a list price of $10.95. The ISBN number is 0980081750.

Cameron, a Scotsman, gives us a 123-page book with pictures of seven retreat houses in the province of British Columbia, Canada. It is a spiritual book and a travel book with lots of local history thrown in.

The retreat house that I am familiar with is Marywood in Cranbrook. Our Jesus Caritas group once spent several days there. Cameron gives a history of the town and the area and then describes his retreat at Marywood. The retreat house is staffed by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, founded in Quebec in 1653. Marywood has been at its site for 25 years. It is a small, intimate place of prayer looking out over the majestic Canadian Rockies.

As he left Marywood, the author describes his visit to the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook. He took a tour of the Soo-Spokane Train Deluxe of 1907. He explains that at that time as unlikely as it seems the rail route from Minneapolis to Spokane passed through Cranbrook. Would you believe!

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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