Archive for September, 2010
Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Spring truly has sprung. In just over a week, we’ll be getting daylight saving time as well.
So what are the connotations to this time of year? This is the return of Persephone from the Underworld.
Persephone was the goddess of spring growth. One day, while out picking flowers with some nymphs, she happened to get abducted by Hades, god of the Underworld, who desired a wife and was given permission to forcibly take her by her father, Zeus. Demeter, her mother and goddess of agriculture, went berserk when she heard about Zeus handing their daughter over like a piece of used furniture, and decided to hold off on letting the earth produce fruit until Persephone’s return.
Zeus had no choice but to renege on his agreement with Hades. Unfortunately, Persephone had already eaten pomegranate seeds in the Underworld, and was henceforth doomed to forever descend to join her husband in the Underworld and then return again at opposing points in the year. Bummer.
It doesn’t take a genius to see how this relates to the seasons.
This is a really nice myth. Sure, it has shades of Lot and his daughters, but Demeter at least protests the arrangement between Zeus and Hades, and Zeus must release Persephone from the forced union.
To illustrate this Greek myth, here’s a Silly Symphony from 1934:
The Pope, Benedict XVI (nee Joseph Ratzinger) sort of put his foot in it last week, suggesting that atheism leads to the devaluing of human life, and that this in turn leads to such nastiness as the Holocaust and the Nazi regime:
“Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.
“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.”
Sure, his job involves pushing the idea that God is necessarily part of a fulfilling life—such sentiments are to be expected. But it’s something else, in my opinion, to imply that atheism leads to the kind of heinous philosophies of Hitler et al. The only way to join the dots and get from A to B is by assuming that it is only by following the tenets of the Bible (or the Church itself, which ultimately leads back to the Pope anyway) that one can be a truly moral person and not a murderous sociopath.
Of course, being involved in the protection of child abusers is a totally different matter.
This is the man who was a member of the Hitler Youth. More importantly, this is the man who, in his later years, helped to protect a known child abuser who had tied up and molested two boys in 1978. Regarding the priest’s potential defrocking (not to mention any referral to the authorities), then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote this in 1985:
“This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.”
(The “petitioner” was Stephen Kiesle, the man who molested the two boys. He was 38 at the time.)
In other words, sure, we’re dealing with a child molester here, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that this man needs our protection, as does the Church’s reputation.
In 1985, Kiesle became a youth minister at another parish. It was not until 1987 that Kiesle was defrocked. The Diocese eventually reached monetary settlements with eight of his victims.
Yet Ratzinger has the gall to paint atheists with the “Nazi” brush, while there’s a general accusation of a witch-hunt mentality against the Church, likening it to antisemitism. This is demonisation of the worst kind, simultaneously avoiding responsibility for past deeds while accusing of gross discrimination those insisting the Church be held accountable. “I’m not the monster! You’re the monsters!”
Most interesting of all is the inconvenient fact that Hitler never renounced his Roman Catholicism, speaking openly about his professed Christianity. The Nazis, in fact, were explicitly hostile towards atheism. But no, let’s just ignore all that and pretend that Nazism was an atheist movement.
Given all this very ugly rhetoric directed at atheism by an organisation as backwards-looking, corrupt, hypocritical and self-serving as the Catholic Church, I cannot stay silent regarding my own beliefs (or lack thereof). 1 in 4 Australians are Catholic, as per the 2006 census, presumably taking their cues from a man who misleads his followers about the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV (while en route to Africa, no less). Roughly 2 in 3 Australians are Christian. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised within churches here regarding the potential problems of having a Prime Minister who is a non-believer, as if being a Christian were a necessary condition for being moral.
Saying “I’m not really religious”—a sort of vague catchall remark that indicates general apathy—is not too controversial in Australia. But the “atheist” label is still a bit of an uncomfortable fit when facing the wider society. Until such a label is gladly self-applied without shame by those for whom it applies, such a stigma will continue.
So, I’m going to “come out of the closet” and say it: I’m an atheist.
That’s not to say my worldview is cold or heartless. I enjoy the poetry, imagery and symbolism of the Bible, as I do with many other sacred texts. I find awe-inspiring beauty and elegance in the universe, from the formation of stars to the operation of the human brain. I love life and enjoy each day.
What I certainly don’t do is round up Jews in my spare time. Nor am I involved in stigmatising homosexuality (unlike the Catholic Church, who seems ideologically aligned with Nazi Germany in this regard).
So while it’s nice to know that a man with roughly one billion followers worldwide is willing to make authoritative statements implying that my moral compass is lacking in a regard for humanity, it still irks that such a self-serving hypocrite wields so much power. It’s not Jesus I have a problem with—it’s the man who claims to speak for Him.
Most people know I’m a big Star Wars fan—it was something that imprinted itself on my psyche as a child, and I still haven’t been able to shake it.
What people don’t know is that the Superman movies were almost as important. Sure, they became increasingly bad as the series progressed, but the first film generated enough goodwill that, up to and including Superman III, I was willing to go along for the ride. I mean, I chose to see Superman III over Return of the Jedi when both were playing (though I doubt anything in Jedi would have freaked me out as much as some of Superman III‘s scenes).
But there’s no getting around the sharp decline in quality between 1978′s Superman: The Movie and 1987′s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. So what went wrong?
The short answer is that Richard Donner, the director of the first film, was fired before the second film was completed. Much of what Donner had filmed for Superman II was then reshot by Richard Lester, who completed the film and went on to make Superman III (a.k.a. Richard Pryor in a film featuring a cameo by Superman).
In 2006, a reconstructed version of Donner’s Superman II was released, 25 years after Lester’s cut. (Notably, Donner’s version is available on Blu-ray, while Lester’s is MIA.) Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut restores Marlon Brando’s scenes (which were dropped from Lester’s cut for budgetary reasons), reuses John William’s score (whereas Lester’s cut uses a score by Ken Thorne) and generally shifts the tone to be more in keeping with the first film. This is essentially a new movie, and the true spiritual successor to Superman: The Movie.
Enter Superman Returns, also from 2006. This is not a “reboot”, “re-imagining” or any other kind of contemporary take on the universe, but neither is it a sequel to Superman IV, the last in the series at that point. Instead, it’s a sequel to Donner’s Superman II—a film that had not even been released when Superman Returns hit cinemas.
Made by Bryan Singer with the blessing of Richard Donner, Superman Returns is like Superman III as it might have been, had Donner been allowed to stay with the series. Brandon Routh plays Christopher Reeve playing Superman/Clark Kent; Kevin Spacey seems perfect as a replacement for Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Sets recall the original 1978 film, and the opening credits alone are enough to make a fan of the original gasp in recognition, complete with a rendition of Williams’ Superman theme. Marlon Brando even returns, albeit based on his scenes from the first two films. (Indeed, securing the rights to Brando’s scenes for use in Superman Returns is what subsequently made the Donner cut of Superman II possible.) And the glimpse of Krypton we see in the first few moments gives me goosebumps every time.
I’d put off seeing this film for four years due to bad word of mouth. What a mistake. I can’t rave about this movie enough.
What’s most surprising about Superman Returns is how much it feels like a film from the late ’70s/early ’80s, despite impressive CGI effects and modern camera technology. One scene in particular, featuring a car careening out of control, is totally believable as a lost scene from Superman: The Movie. Incredible.
Finally, we have a trilogy of great Superman movies that all seem to exist in the same universe. In Superman Returns, photos of Glenn Ford still adorn Martha Kent’s home, for goodness sake! This has to be the most gloriously insane big-budget sequel to ever hit screens. Who else would have the audacity to make a completely faithful sequel to the incomplete, alternate cut to a 25 year old film, totally ignoring continuity from later sequels and hardly aging the characters at all?
Even better, the film feels like a natural thematic progression from the two Donner Superman films, focusing on the relationship between father and son and the tension between humanity and divinity. The trilogy is like the comic book movie adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ.
So why don’t people like Superman Returns? Is it because it’s a film that arrived twenty years too late, feeling anachronistic and out-of-step with modern films? Is it because Reeve’s tragic demise is still too fresh in our minds? Or did the plot just not resonate?
I don’t care. I just know I love this film. It’s like stumbling upon a Beatles album recorded in their heyday that was never released. It’s the anachronism, the naivety, the innocence, the purity that makes this film a winner for me. It’s not an action film, nor should it be. It’s the heart that carries this film.
Warners won’t be letting Singer make a sequel, instead looking to Christopher Nolan to start afresh. I trust Nolan, but nothing will match the magic that Singer wove and would’ve continued to weave. X2 proved that Singer knows how to make a great sequel to his own good superhero film. In a way, Singer’s fate mirrors Donner’s.
But at least we’ve now got a trilogy. It’s not perfect—we’ll never see Richard Donner’s seamless, complete vision for the first two films, for example—but it’s 1000 times better than the series we had a mere four years ago. A project, begun in 1977, has reached fulfillment.
Sometimes I have “old fogey” moments. Remember the good ol’ days when people were freaking out over the videoclip for Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”? It all seems so innocent when the latest Eminem video features spitting, implied domestic violence and arson.
I also remember watching classic Disney shorts without fearing an impending epileptic seizure. But I guess that’s what was missing from Golden Age animation: a contempt for moderate attention spans.
So while we get beautifully restored versions of Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio on Blu-ray (geared more towards adult enthusiasts than children), the kids gets hit with this junk:
All we need is for Poochie to start rapping with Goofy about Xtreme skiing and the end-times prophecies will be fulfilled.
This is brilliant. As a fan of both Star Wars and the material Lucas was inspired by, I cannot praise this fan’s work highly enough: