26 February 2014

Librarian Problems...

When your friends mistake John Dewey and Melvil Dewey for the same person:

No, the Dewey Decimal System is not part of some pragmatist philosophical conspiracy. It's actually pretty great.

Monuments Men: Fact and Fiction

When I first heard that Robert Edsel's Monuments Men was being made into a feature film, I was excited. The stories he captured about Allied efforts to save art, historic buildings, libraries, and archives in the wake of WWII are harrowing, remarkable, and inspiring, and make for perfect movie fodder. Plus, who doesn't like a feel-good museum story? The A-list casting made me skeptical (and George Clooney directing? Really?), but an extended preview featuring interviews with the cast about their passion for sharing the stories of the American Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) division and art preservation had me reassured (I'm also generally a sucker for Matt Damon films). But ultimately, the film disappointed me.

It fell short in so many of the ways films fail when they dramatize historical vignettes. With the exception of Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett, no members of the main cast were believable as art experts. The way in which the film played-up the team as 'mistfit soldiers' didn't allow the characters' individual stories as artists to breathe. I did enjoy Dmitri Leonidas' portrayal of Sam Epstein (Harry Ettlinger in real life), who had a soft, but striking personal narrative as a Jewish-American immigrant. But mostly, it felt as if I was seeing a caricature of the MFAA, rather than earnest stories. 

I was especially disappointed and irritated by the film's portrayal of Rose Valland (Claire Simon in the film-more French-sounding for American audiences, I guess?), who was arguably the most important figure in the preservation and recovery of French art during the war. This unassuming but sharp museum overseer remains one of the most decorated women in French history for her work in the Jeu de Paume during the war. First, the film deprives her of her credit by renaming her character (many of the men in the film kept their real names), and then creates a completely fictional, awkward, and gratuitous sexual tension between her and James Granger (played by Matt Damon). Instead of the intelligent, meticulous, and driven museum patriot she was, these moments in the film make her seem much more like a pathetic old maid who is desperate for male attention. A real missed opportunity to highlight a true heroine of WWII. You can read more about Rose Valland and other women of the Monuments Men here.

21 February 2014

Immediate Book Meme

(DarwinCatholic started it, Happy Catholic passed it on, so...what the heck?)

1. What book are you reading now?

2. What book did you just finish?

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. I don't usually mind long books, but man, even good psychology can be a drag. I triumphantly finished the audio today after pushing through it on my drives  for the past 3 weeks.

3. What do you plan to read next?

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

I keep getting stuck part-way in Joseph Dane's What is a Book?. Also, Transformation in Christ.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

I've picked up Whitman's Leaves of Grass on numerous occasions, but the right time hasn't come yet.

6. What is your current reading trend?

WWII history/libraries/art, I guess? Monuments Men started me on a tear, and I have a brand new beautiful coffee table book from the Newberry Library sitting on my side table.

02 February 2014

Before Goundhog Day: Candlemas

"That's all very beautiful, you might be saying to yourself, but how can my heart - stony as it is, be illuminated by the light of the Holy Spirit? Let's take the candles we have received today as an example. How does a candle produce its light? By being consumed. The fire consumes the wax. The fire of love consumes our very substance - sacrificial love. I mean, radical self-giving, death to self. Don't be afraid of giving your life completely to God. We will shine with a great light if we allow ourselves to be consumed by a greater light: the light of Christ who, after being totally extinguished on the cross, blazed up in the glory of the Resurrection, an undying light which shines, radiates, casts light on all the world, now and always and forever and ever. Amen."

-Homily from Norcia monks, 2011 (read more here)

It's not often that I've seen Candlemas customs actually observed in parishes (likely due to fears of once again putting fire into the hands of the entire assembly for nearly the whole Mass...I haven't seen a church burn down yet), so I was so glad to have Sunday Mass by candlelight this morning. I love the myriad shades of symbolism of the flame: Christ as light of the world, hope, all-consuming love, the Holy Spirit, purgatorial fire. Real flame consumes our attention too - how fixated we are on our slender tapers until we can extinguish them at Communion, just as our attentions should be fixed on the true light. It wasn't until very recently that I learned of Candlemas as Groundhog Day's long predecessor. As much as Punxsutawney Phil provides a fun little annual ritual, Groundhog Day seems to flip the meaning of the day on its head. Rather than rejoice in the hope of new light (whether winter stays for 6 more weeks or not), we tend to fixate on the groundhog's fear - for an abundance of light will surely scare him back into his hole. Our hope is not predicated on chance, but on the real Light of the World.