Monday, September 15, 2014

Heard at Holy Innocents


Since the Archdiocese of New York's parish consolidation initiative spurred speculation about the closing of Holy Innocents, much has been written in praise of the parish. Least numerous and most necessary among this esteem is the appreciation for the priests who come from throughout the boroughs to say mass there in the Extraordinary Form. These are not idle priests who pop in from next door to say mass, but busy clergy who make time for the Holy Innocents community. They come with good spirit, prepared and thoughtful sermons, and full voices to offer not just a beautiful, but a consistently beautiful liturgy from week-to-week. Such praise doesn't diminish the work of the resident priests at Holy Innocents, who beside the work of their visiting brothers offer the indispensable before every EF mass, confession.

I'll pass over the uncommon grace and decorum of the altar servers to mention what is for me the most extraordinary offering of the parish, its music. From the small, dedicated schola flows week-after-week of glorious polyphony and chant. It's such a mainstay that even I began to take it for granted until, perusing the mass journal which I began a few months ago, I saw just how many pieces I'd noted in the margins.

Classical settings, renaissance polyphony, plainchant, homophony, preludes, fugues, motets, the choices are both varied and complementary, consistent and prudent. This is no small feat, finding such a wide variety of excellent music, rehearsing, and then performing it at the most appropriate mass. To praise just that is even to overlook the sung propers each week, with which I'll occasionally follow with my gradual. And they are indeed sung every week, never skipped because they're particularly florid one Sunday.

Nothing is ever skimped on or supplemented with inferior efforts. There's nothing added and there's nothing taken away, there's just the mass. Its loving, lively, traditional celebration at Holy Innocents makes it feel as it should, the most important thing in the world.

I list just a small sampling of what has been sung at Holy Innocents in the past two months. Again, this is putting aside all of the chant both ordinary and proper.

1. Vorspiel in D minor. Anton Bruckner [YouTube]
2. Missa Quarti Toni. Tomas Luis de Victoria [YouTube]
3. Tantum Ergo. Tomas Luis de Victoria [YouTube]
4. Ave Verum Corpus. William Byrd [YouTube]
5. Fugue in A, BWV.536. J.S. Bach [YouTube]
6. Missa de Virgine. Christobal de Morales [YouTube]
7. Panis Angelicus. Claudio Casciolini [YouTube]
8. O Crux Benedicta. Francisco Guerrero [YouTube]
9. Messa da Capella a quattro voci. Claudio Monteverdi. [YouTube]
10. Plein Jeu. Louis Marchand. [YouTube]

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Man and His Honor


If it is true that the best citizen is he who shares most fully in the honors of society, then today Americans are in quite a pickle. If it is also true that he who has no share in the government, cannot be a loyal citizen (Politics, 1268a), then we have a bona fide problem. I would talk about each in turn.

First, in a liberal democracy it is not hard to find, as Plato said we would, a variety of constitutions. There as many ways of life as there are men and it's not difficult to find someone with whom you share your esoteric ways. Yet is it satisfying or satisfying enough for a man to share those values with only a small set of people? Does he perhaps wish for some broader consensus, an accord on universal principles, however few? One the one hand external validation seems superfluous to morality. Socrates and Jesus are the most famous examples, but it's not hard to think of people who didn't get along with the majority. Surely objective morality is indifferent to the vicissitudes of popular opinion. Likewise, adhering to morality does satisfy the conscience. The good man can sleep at night and look at himself in the mirror on the morning, but how does he look at others?

It seems naive to suggest that anyone truly, deeply enjoys a plurality of opinions. Perhaps you think you are correct or you can admit your opponent is correct or you can admit you both are wrong, but it seems a fancy to think that anyone happily wallows in a muddy plurality of contradictory ideas. The variety might even be fertile, but man requires more than excitement. Chiefly, he desires to live up to a vision, an ideal of man, fulfilling his his duties and obligations and consequently receiving honors. When there is a variety of values in society and everyone is equally praised, man is left to find his own inspiration for and satisfaction in pursuing the good.

Such is possible, but not preferable in extremity. Absent a consensus on virtue, many will still adhere to the path of the good, but without recognition many will not. Moreover, without the reward of honors the virtuous man will develop resentment for his society. The man who saves his money, pays his bills, and spends within his means will learn to resent the society which excuses and rescues profligate men. The bachelor who keeps his hands off women and the husband who remains faithful will find anger in his heart for the fellow men who use women and the women who excuse them. The man who cultivates restraint will feel the fool when boors go without chastise. Whoever devotes himself to serious and genuine study bill begrudge the fame bestowed on fools and false scholars by the unstudied. And so on and on, the good man will resent his fellow citizens.

The good man in a society which does not recognize his virtue will wonder whether he is Aeneas or Don Quixote. Is he passing on the torch of virtue and tradition or is he following bygone ideals? He will question himself and his sanity, wondering whether his courage is foolishness. Denied honor he will either seek to reform society or he will retreat from it. A man with agency will turn toward reform. If he has charisma he may turn to politics, if he has artistic skill he may attempt to persuade by art, if wealth, by influence. A man with little agency in society will retreat to the sanctity of the next social circle in which he shares both duty and honor. Some men will turn to violence, against themselves or others whom they blame.

What, then, will prevent this dissolution? What will unite the plurality? Aristotle wrote (Politics, 1263b) that education would do this, but the education of Greek παιδεία is not of text books and standardized tests. It is a reconciliation of the individual to society, a stepping into society and ideals. Education then, Highet wrote (Paideia, I.xxii) is no adornment, but, "deliberately moulding human character in accordance with an ideal." To have a culture which is not merely a collection of traits or a main idea requires the nexus of its ideals in a vision of man which is fervently sought and when found, praised.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Top Ten: Advice for Young People


So I'm twenty-nine now, and while that number doesn't mean much of anything, I feel more acutely that I can look back and forward with equal clarity. Too I can say with some certainty what has worked for me and what has not, so with humility and no philosophical pretensions I'd like to share the fruits of my reflections. Subject them to your own scrutiny and common sense and shun them sooner than do anything barbarous, but I hope you will consider them. These observations are not hierarchical, alas, so you'll need to be prudent about their application, that is, which is more important when.

Finally, I've not perfected doing or avoiding what I advocate here, and that seems like a good place to start.

1. You're a Work in Progress

Plato and Aristotle argued–so much for avoiding philosophical pretensions–that the gods must be unchangeable because they are perfect. You don't tinker with perfection, right? Well, unless you've joined the Olympian ranks, you should probably be changing. Not everything, mind you, but some things. Like a shrubbery, some parts need to be trimmed and some cultivated.

Unfortunately, I can't say much more. The art of curating your character is the art of knowing what you like about yourself and what you don't. It also requires–again shrubbery-like–patience. You can't change everything at once. You should probably look at some models to discover whom you admire. Speaking of which...

2. Get to Know People

It's hard to get your head around the fact that you need to know others to know yourself. Not only will you learn by knowing them whom to emulate and whom to avoid, but you'll develop relationships which will make demands of you. They'll want things from you and also for you, and you'll have to consider who you are when deciding how to react. What will what they want you to do make you? You'll also see yourself from their perspective and be able to ask whether you like the person that they see. Do you like how you act around them, or how you make them feel?

This doesn't mean that you use people to learn about yourself, but that your fulfillment is interwoven with the lives of others.

3. Reconcile Yourself to Tradition

This is a tough one, because no one is fully progressive, contemporary, or traditional. Everyone cherry picks what they like, and that's fine up to a point. There are good traditions and bad ones, but I would make two provisions.

First, decide what traditionalism is to you. Do you actually find beauty in doing things the way your ancestors did? Is there authority in precedent? If so, those imperatives have far-reaching implications, i.e. you can't choose which traditions to follow unless you think they're immoral. Maybe tradition is for you just a love of things which happen to be out of style at the moment. Perhaps you follow tradition to pay honor to the past or your parents. In any event, what you think traditionalism is has a lot to do with how you fulfill the name.

Second, understand the traditions. Study the history of everything and don't rely on caricatures or summaries. To put it another way: know your alternatives. It's alright to like rock and roll music–sort of–but not if you don't know what you're missing in Mozart and Bach. This study also applies to your family. Study its history–and that includes getting to know its living members–and decide what it means to you. Comprehend what your actions will do to the thing called your family.

4. Honor Your Parents

Yes, there is such a thing as a collective. Liberally-minded people–libertarians, liberals, progressives, and broadly independent people–have a hard time with this one. I'm not saying the culture, ethos, zeitgeist or whatever you call it has will or authority, but it exists. You contribute to it, and most immediately you contribute to your family, and most immediately that means your actions with your parents make a special little world among you. Honor them.

I don't mean that you should let them dominate you or that you should be obsequious to their whims, but you should consider their desires for you as legitimate ones. Those desires may be illogical or wrong-headed, but ponder them with care. If they're immoral, then you have a bona fide moral dilemma between piety and some other virtue: Good luck.

Short of that, try to please them. Let them help you in ways that they like. Keep them apprised of your whereabouts and comings-and-goings. If they're not traditionalists, you're off the hook. If they are, see #3. Do well for yourself, for them. They'll worry no matter what, but be successful enough at life that they don't predominately worry. Above all, don't make them ashamed. Don't make them want to hide you, themselves, or the family. Look into the eyes of an ashamed parent and the pity you'll know will set you straight.

Their hopes for you extend ad infinitum. Of what they ask of you, you'll have to decide what's reasonable, moral, necessary, and desirable to accommodate. Not all requests are all of the above, and some will be contradictory.

5. Play Devil's Advocate

You'll need to weigh those choices, then, won't you? This means you'll need to look at all sides equally. Such requires the use of logic which, alas, requires a great deal of effort.

Unfortunately, thinking logically isn't the hardest part. What's harder than thinking clearly?

First, arguing with yourself. You need to be able to argue both sides equally, that is, be able to argue against what you think is correct. It's desirable always to argue against the best objection to your case, but you'll often need to argue your opponent's case better then they are able

Second, dealing with people who aren't logical is a distinct challenge. Disagreement usually gets somewhat heated, and it's hard for people to accept logical propositions when you've made them feel vulnerable.

Third, be humble. Remember that you can be completely logical and also completely wrong if you're missing the tiniest variable. Never lose sight of what you're trying to prove or accomplish and make sure what you're arguing both supports your premise and doesn't support anything unexpected.

Fourth, avoiding the use of reason as a weapon. Don't let the fact that you're right about something go to your head and cloud your judgment. In an abstract, academic debate that might be fine, but in life your main goal or at least a goal which you cannot ignore is getting along with people. If there is a moral imperative at stake, proceed in argument, but with caution.

Also, people like to make up their own minds, so at least give them the illusion of choice. On that note...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Movie Review: Jaws (Part II)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. 1975.

Part I | Part II 
Parts III and IV coming soon

8. Brody's Studies

We don't know a lot about sharks and neither does the main character, so the movie needs to educate us both. How? It's useful to stop a moment and reflect on how, if you were directing the movie and needed to educate your audience, you would do that. Maybe he's watching a television documentary or he goes to a museum, but then how do you make that scene not only educational, not only educational and interesting, but also a scene into which the character belongs. Spielberg decided to have Brody sitting in his office going through books on sharks.


The scene educates everyone, in particular seeding us a few pieces of information.

First, the shark can sense activity in the water, telling us that we can't hide or swim away. Second, the shark is very big. Third, you're not safe on a boat. Finally, the picture of the shark eating a scuba tank sets up the final scene of the movie.

The scene isn't just bland education, though, for in learning about sharks Brody starts to deplore the ignorance of the people who just want it killed. Except for Quint, the people don't respect the power of this creature and simply want the inconvenience of it removed from their lives. Brody's not advocating shark rights, but his attempt to educate himself reinforces his status as outsider to the townspeople. The scene also wisely continues its slow introduction of the shark. The first attack didn't show the shark at all. The second showed us only its fins. The third appearance was Quint's chalk drawing in the previous scene. Now we see the shark in full, but in the pictures of a book. We're slowly being fed information about the shark, letting our imaginations draw the picture.


Two things especially distinguish this scene, though. The first thing is its quiet. There is practically no dialogue about the sharks, rather we look on as Brody flips through the books. The second is the way it is edited into the second scene. Instead of cleanly cutting the scene and ending it, Fields intercut Brody's flipping through the book into the beginning of the next scene. The result is that the images of the shark more closely anticipate the attack of the next scene by being woven into it.

9. Holiday Roast

There's another anticipation from the previous scene to this one, though, and that's the presence of the jetty. In the previous scene the jetty is set up as a safe place, where the boys go when their father tells them to get off the boat. We know the shark can attack a boat, but not a whole pier, right?

Like many other scenes in Jaws, this one also begins on a note of comedy, with two islanders trying to cash in on the bounty with the hair-brained plan of tying the shark to the pier. When the beast takes the bait, though, and the boobs cheer on the fleeing shark, we have no way to expect what happens: the shark rips end of the pier clean off, taking one of the men along for the ride. The whole scene pivots off of one ingenious moment when we see the end of the jetty, ripped off by the shark, turn round in the water. Spielberg uses the tip of the pier, now tethered to the shark by the chained bait on which the shark has chomped, as a proxy for the shark itself. To amplify this shock, it turns around nice and slowly to the sound of a metallic screech, a slash harsh and alien enough to tell our subconscious that something unfriendly is approaching even though we can't see it.


In the heat of the moment, we seem to see the shark, so strong is the suggestion of its presence. Of course there is still a man in the water, and Spielberg shoots his frantic swim back to the pier from below the water line, so we can practically feel the water rushing down our own throats.


With the wide establishing shots, we feel like the man in the water with the shark on one side and our pal calling from the pier on the other. This is also the first moment in which we hear the Jaws theme in full swing.

Spielberg wisely tunes down the carnage, though, and as the man escapes the scene ends on a light note as the near-victim asks his pal, "Can we go home now?"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Inclinations, Judgment, and Clemency


La Clemenza di Tito
It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. Ignoring fact that the statement is attributed to comedians and hails from the 20th century–which excelled beyond most in heartfelt mendacity–and putting aside the rarity of thigh-slapping hilarity during Antigone or the Oresteia, I think there is a grain of truth in the observation. I would, however, reformulate it as information plus time equals prudence. Or something like that. I distrust maxims and aphorisms, seeming as they do to dress up arguments as facts. In fact I frown on much by inclination, and wondering why is really my point. Ought we judge, how much, and how best manage judgment for those who cannot resist?

Some people are born with a favorable disposition, liberally bestowing their approbation to various things and parties and ideas. This is a socially useful trait and people so disposed are well-liked and called agreeable. They always enjoy the movie, are delectated by dinner, and think the affairs in the nation are generally going well. Now it goes without saying that my own inclination toward such people is a presumption of imbecility, and while I mean imbecile in the modern sense of foolish or simply stupid, Latin's sense of imbecillus as fragile or feeble is not off the mark, for is not there something fragile about the mind which cannot tell good from bad? There's not much of a bright side to the Latin adjective, but to me there is something beautiful about innocence–literally not knowing, in-nocens.

On one hand, yes, innocence means a lack of knowledge without which one cannot determine the truth of a thing. On the other hand, though, it implies an ignorance of the bad, a longing for the Edenic ignorance of evil and the eternal reconciliation with the good, God. Yet that reconciliation is outside time, and our temporal concerns require judgment so that we can be and do good.

Everyone grows apprehensive about judging others, though, for no one wants himself judged. By what better method, though, is one inspired to improve oneself than by the thought of being judged? It is perhaps not necessary–it is certainly not desirable–constantly to fear the judgment of others, but the concept of being judged from without seems a necessary, or useful, part of learning to judge oneself, that is, judge from within. Moreover it seems a fundamental part of discerning, of separating, one thing from another, one person from another, oneself from another.

The process of judgment, though, can prove as hazardous as ignorance or indifference, especially if we do not distinguish deliberation from other types of investigation, such as science, conjecture, and opinion. Even still, the process of judgment is far from simple. It requires a certain ignorance, not in the sense of lacking but in the sense of ignoring, ignoring what is wrong, ignoring what is true but irrelevant, ignoring what is true and relevant but insignificant, and finally what is possible but improbable. Listing only these difficulties is to put aside the difficulty of judging the reliability of the evidence on which one does base judgment.

This skill of deliberation, or as Aristotle says correctness of thinking (Ethics, 1142a) does not exist for us in a vacuum, either, but rather among our preconceptions and inclinations. One's subjective sense of life, subject to the vicissitudes of his experiences, limitations of his scientific knowledge, prior judgments, and reason, all influence a verdict. What do these variables tell us about how we should judge?

My own experience tells me that most things are junk and as such should be judged unsparingly. Junk proliferates with the increase of mechanical facility. Junk cannot be fixed or upgraded. Junk is wasteful. A world of junk–of styrofoam cups, tawdry clothing, ridiculous movies, and slight music–is inclement toward man. Being disposable, things should be judged harshly.

People, however, are not disposable. Neither are they wastes, nor are they impossible to emend. Only in an age of tremendous medical skill and a lack of political strife can we even be tempted to say, seeing the billions of the world, that it is easy to make bring about a life. If we take then as a principle that we wish to do no harm, the motto of the Gentleman, then how shall we judge? I should like to be stubbornly literal about the word judge, Latin's iudex literally meaning to say the law. By literal I mean that we should be liberal about proclaiming standards, but clement in judgment of failure.

Clement is of course the key word in this statement. First, we must distinguish it from agreeableness, a benign disposition, forgiveness, encouragement, support, sympathy, tolerance. Clemency is not identical to:
  • following another's lead (agreeableness)
  • being kindly (benign)
  • granting pardon (forgiveness)
  • approval (encouragement)
  • providing succor (support)
  • intellectual agreement (empathy)
  • emotional agreement (sympathy)
  • or permission (tolerance)
Clemency takes all variables into consideration and renders a prudent judgment and appropriate response. As such, clemency requires both practical wisdom, that is, the province of choosing action, and also right judgment, the "discrimination of the equitable." (Ethics, 1143a). Discrimination has been debased in our society, but it is a necessary tool, literally the discernment between things, the ability to observe where one thing ends and another begins. It is the opposite of equateequivocate and, by no small irony, confuse.

Confusion constantly threatens clemency, whether it is confusion between virtues and vices, or among virtues and vices. How often do we use forgive, support, sympathy, tolerate, and help, all more or less interchangeably? Clemency most among the virtues is also threatened by the elimination of virtues and vices. For one cannot practice clemency if there are no vices to forgive, nor can one practice clemency if there are no virtues which make a man good and therefore worthy to judge. Clemency along with generosity, fortitude, and magnanimity are the most difficult and last virtues to cultivate. They require a lifetime of practice and they are those virtues which distinguish a good man from a Gentleman.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Article Man

With apologies to They Might be Giants.

Particle man, particle man
Doing the things a particle can.
What is that? Not a lot.
Particle man.

Is he an adverb, maybe a suffix?
When he's in a sentence, does he inflect?
Or does the sentence change him instead?
Nobody knows, Particle man.

Particle man, Particle man,
Particle man hates Article man.
They have a fight. Article wins.
Article man.

Article man, Article man
Declines all the forms that an article can,
Subject, object, even place where,
Article man.

accordion solo

Verbal man, Verbal man
Making things happen throughout the land
His name means word
Verbal man.

He can change the time at which he exists,
And even his number can do the splits.
When the noun agrees it's a happy land.
Powerful man, verbal man.

Inflection man, Inflection man,
Size of the entire language man.
Changing his form to suit his mood,
Inflection man.

Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Is he upset English uses him less?
Who came up with Inflection man?
Degraded man, Inflection man.

accordion solo

Article man, Article man
Article man hates Verbal man.
την and einthe and an,
Article man.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ten Frames From: Columbo: Murder by the Book


After our review of Columbo, Murder by the Book, let's look at a few shots from this uncommonly good episode of crime drama.



1. A number of things make this inconspicuous shot worthy of note. First, the whole shot works because the street is higher than the entrance to the house. It's clear the cinematographer and/or director examined the area to find the best shot and didn't simply revert to stock ideas. Second, it's a smooth, downward transition to this shot from the previous shot, which avoids cutting to a second shot, following the character inside, or shooting him from above. Third, since he shrinks in the frame, we need a way to suggest that he's dominant, since he's the murderer. Hence... Fourth, the blackly humorous sticker, "Have a nice day." Finally, the whole shot is livened up by contrasting lines:
  1. the parallel diagonals of the roofline and draped sackcloth
  2. the z-axis line of the car bumper
  3. the parallel diagonals of the curb and background mountains
  4. the x-axis upper balcony
The tension of the murder is visually recreated in the clashing lines. 

2. I like this shot simply because it shows that they bothered to shoot at dusk, and patiently wait for the right lighting. The lamplight is also a noir-ish nod.


3. One of many shots of Ken with his face half-shrouded in darkness.


4. As we mentioned, the length of this unbroken shot reflects the free-flowing information after Columbo has earned the widow's trust, but it's also dynamically blocked with movement within the frame. It's also a nice contrast to the shot/reverse shot of the previous scene.

click image to enlarge

5. This simple pair of close-ups contrasts Columbo's clumsy hands with Ken's dexterous, malevolent ones.


Once again, Columbo's ineptitude is a false front, whereas Ken's affectation is vanity.

Please note that the page after the jump includes large gifs. (about 7mb. total)

TV Review: Columbo: Murder by the Book

Directed by Steven Spielberg. 1971. 

I'm just another cop. My name's Columbo and I'm a lieutenant.

The first episode of Columbo is the best episode of crime television drama I've ever seen. Granted I'm no connoisseur of the genre, but this one episode easily out-classes its peers in cinematography, acting, music, and style. Whether it's the prodigious production value, the feature-length runtime, Steven Spielberg's cinematic eye at the precipice of his ingenuity, or the invisible weight of the late, great, Peter Falk which catapulted the show to excellence, this first of Columbo's 69 episodes blew me away by its craftsmanship and entertaining drama.

I would like to review this episode in detail, topic-by-topic, but we have to talk about its opening scene. Like any good murder mystery, Murder by the Book starts with–you guessed it–a murder. The death is no mere necessity for getting the protagonist to run around, though, rather Spielberg luxuriates in a fifteen minute prelude leading up to the murder. Again and again we're teased and toyed with by an ingenious array of delays, diversions, and details which tug and trick us into thinking that at last the tension will explode in the murder. Consider these details, half of which are introductory and half prevaricating:
  1. The audio of the author's keystrokes at the typewriter replace the audio of the murderer working his way to him, isolating the soon-to-be victim from his assassin.
  2. The camera cuts to a shot of a Newsweek cover depicting the two men as a "best-selling mystery team," telling us just enough for the moment.
  3. The killer's car enters passing under the "Exit-Only" sign, suggesting that the driver is up to no good.
  4. The close-up of the gun is obvious, but necessary.
  5. We then have the contrast and false release of the killer only pretending to threaten the victim, who laughs at the prank and unloaded gun.
  6. Then we have the further contrast of learning that there really is tension between the partners.
  7. The cork of the celebratory champagne pops too easily: was it taken off and re-sealed?
  8. The killer refers to the end of their partnership both as a divorce and also as the death of the literary character whom they together created: precursor to murder?
  9. The killer plants his lighter on the desk.
  10. The killer tells his partner, "I'm going to kidnap you." We think this is his real plan, but he's just joking again: he's inviting him to his cabin. Or is that a macabre joke?
  11. When the incipient assassin hurries back to the office to get the lighter he planted while his partner waits in the car, we wonder if it's wired to explode.
  12. The killer seems actually to forget his lighter for a moment.
  13. A close-up to the killer wearing gloves hearkens back to the beginning, when his partner calls his pranking bluff because he wasn't wearing gloves the way a killer would. Will he kill now? Nope, a few seconds later the gloves come off.
  14. On the ride to the cabin the uneasy author confesses to a feeling of deja-vu: is he living one of the murders about which he's written?
  15. The killer's gloves are back on: now?
  16. Uh oh, the couch is covered in plastic. Now.
This is a classic opening, brought to life with tremendous attention to technique.

It's also a fine way to introduce a villain, giving him center stage for a quarter of an hour. Here the villain is Ken Franklin, one half of a mystery-writing duo brought to life by the suave gravitas of Jack Cassidy. The performance is quite slick, really, with Cassidy switching imperceptibly from jovial smiles to deathly stares. Taking a page from Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt and the twisting, barely-restrained hands of Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton), Cassidy's smooth, deliberate gestures conceal his murderous intent. Satisfied little flourishes, a pat on his lapel, a little pause all reveal a calculating vanity behind the smooth, amiable veneer. Franklin is the polished, urbane counterpart to his other writing half, Jim Ferris (Martin Milner.) As you can guess, Ferris isn't around for long, but Milner's docile face is perfect for the agreeable Ferris, manipulated by his deft partner.

The long introduction also puts a lot of weight on the entry of the hero, Lieutenant Columbo. The entrance is itself one of understatement, fitting for the self-deprecating detective. After fifteen minutes of watching our brilliant killer and several more minutes of print-dusting cops and inquisitive detectives, the beleaguered wife of the deceased writer walks out into the hall. It's another smart, Hitchcockian touch that the fountain is broken, but it also gives Columbo his entry. "I think that's out of order, madam," he says. Classic Columbo, disguising his inquiry within small-talk, banal observations, and favors. Who can say no to the gentle, avuncular Columbo, when he offers to drive you home and make you an omelet?

Columbo's first scene is a perfect example of the detective's approach and of his character. He starts off self-deprecating, asking where everything is in the kitchen. He drops an eggshell in the yolk. Then as he's gained the trust of the Joanna, Jim's wife, he's asking questions and expertly moving about the kitchen, whisking up and chopping the food. Columbo is content to keep his skill under wraps and his cleverness to himself as he goes about his work.

The scene is also a good example of simple and effective cinematography. We move from quick shots and reverse shots over a kitchen counter for Columbo's rapport-building questions, to long unbroken takes along the counter as Columbo imperceptibly begins his inquiry. These lengthwise shots are also nice and long, emphasizing the trust which Columbo has built up with the woman and the information which now flows because of that trust. In fact the longest shot is one minute and forty one seconds, a length unheard of in today's era of finely chopped scenes.

Another shock to us in this scene is the quality in the supporting cast. Today we make a big fuss over film actors transitioning to television work, but while some of these performances are fine, most are phoned-in work with actors playing themselves, replaying old roles, or merely spouting the lines. Rosemary Forsyth brings something unique to the role of Jim's widow. There's a heedless urgency to her opening scene where she learns of her husband's abduction. Her statements are confused and disordered, and she repeats herself. She lurches and shuffles around as if she doesn't know what to do with her body. Yet later we see her, calmed by Columbo's gentle demeanor, as an articulate woman. She's not stupid and not there just to make Columbo look good, rather she realizes that Colombo has disarmed her distrust and agrees to talk with him.

Likewise, Barbara Colby finely played with a nervous naiveté, Lilly, the unfortunate witness to Ken's crime. Even this character has some depth, and in one scene she confronts Ken coming out of a theater show with information that implicates him in his partner's disappearance. It is a tense confrontation because it's the first time anyone has crossed the villain, and it's not a detective, let alone Columbo, who crosses him, but this vulnerable woman. Vulnerable I say, because she not only has a crush on Ken, and is thus ripe for his manipulation, but because her simplicity is unlikely to out-maneuver his ruthlessness. When she tries to blackmail him we know how it'll end. All of her scenes are fraught with tension between her admiration and desperation, and Ken's veiled contempt and cruelty. There's also a little complexity here: we pity her because she is manipulated by Ken, but she's also blackmailing him and letting a murdered walk free.


Since the plot gives away the identity of the murderer at the outset, the excitement comes from watching Columbo figure out the case and from the villain trying to dodge his inquiries and throw him off the track. The cat and mouse game is pretty entertaining at that, with Columbo showing up in the oddest places and times with just a few more questions by which he slowly pens in the murderer.

Amidst the acting and cinematic technique there are many enriching details, like the broken water fountain, the rhythm of the theme being tapped out on the keyboard throughout the soundtrack, Ken's date eyeing other men, and his bumper sticker which reads "Have a Nice Day." There's also a lot of innuendo to Ken's dialogue, for example when he responds to Lilly's welcome by saying that he's come, "bearing gifts," when of course his disguised motive is to kill her. Ken is so vain that with his words and hands he can't help revealing himself.

Even the score is beyond what we expect from television today, with variety in orchestration–piano, pizzicato strings, harpsichord, synthesizer–and a clever, interior theme which nonetheless manages to reveal itself. The prolific Billy Goldenberg would go on to compose more for Columbo, having collaborated with Spielberg here and on Duel.

Finally, the story is brought to life so authentically by the actors and vividly by the style and craft that the show is much more engaging than those with more complexity. Today's shows are often elaborate, but without any satisfaction for the viewer. We are satisfied here because we figure out as Columbo does, with the same information. We're not deliberately kept in the dark while the protagonist acts on secret clues. Likewise today's shows are very polished, but they're all so similar and similarly dull because the visuals are so uninteresting. They're flashy, loud, and fast-paced, but boring.

Just one more thing, though. Not only is there no equal to the hardboiled, soft-hearted charm of Lieutenant Columbo, but few shows have so finely crafted a realistic world in which the star can persuasively be the hero than Spielberg has in this pilot. Columbo is so satisfying because more than in the mere success of the clever author, of the good cop/bad cop duo, of the brilliant lawyer, or the high-tech nerd, there is something unique in the modest man's triumph over the arrogance of the criminal which is profoundly just. Columbo is the classic American detective.

You may also enjoy: Ten Frames from Columbo: Murder by the Book

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How To Work Your Latin Missal and Gradual


Every school of thought and specialization has its own vocabulary. The study of electronics makes use of resistors and capacitors, music discusses fugues and ostinato, and philosophy talks of ontology and epistemology. Even the discussion of words themselves, in linguistics or lexicology, has an esoteric vocabulary of words with which the specialists discuss the field. Religions are no exception to the use of exclusive terminology, and Catholicism has one of the oldest and largest glossaries. Now it's easy to blame Catholic education for the gap in understanding, but I'll only fault it so far. Not because it's arduous work to know about which you speak, but because it's all too easy for faith to get overwhelmed by descriptive terms and semantics. It does no good to know the meaning of each word of Hamlet if you can't appreciate the play.

That said, knowing and discussing meanings is quite a help toward the end of knowing, or trying to know, what something is. Moreover, at some point in every Catholic's life he'll need to reference some prayer or hymn or chant, and he needs to know where to look. It's always chastening to realize how much we have substituted familiarity for comprehension when first we realize that we don't even know where to look for something.

My intent here is to clarify some essentials and orient the reader to the central parts of the mass, missal, and gradual. Excellent descriptions of the parts are available in the texts listed in the bibliography.

The Missal

Let us start with the Missal, named for the mass itself. From the Latin verb dimitto, missa originally referred to the dismissal of the service, but gradually to remain until the dismissal became synonymous with staying for the whole Missa, or mass. The missal in the middle ages replaced the earlier Sacramentary and Pontifical or Pontificale.

The missal contains all the texts for the mass and while they vary in organization and content from publisher to publisher, missals are printed approval from the church. The printing of Nihil Obstat ("nothing hinders") and Imprimatur ("Let it be printed") constitute an, "official declaration that a book or a pamphlet is from doctrinal or moral error." [Baronius]

Missals will often contain sections on doctrine, a calendar of the liturgical year, a list of feasts, general prayers, and so forth, but there are a few consistent, important sections which constitute the texts needed for the mass.

The first section is that of the Ordinary, that is, the parts which do not vary from week-to-week. Several of these sections of the order of mass (Latin, ordo, order, rank) are referred to by the first words of their Latin texts, respectively the 1. Kyrie, 2. Gloria, 3. Credo, 4. Sanctus, and 5. Agnus Dei. (The word ordinary can also, somewhat confusingly, refer to the bishop of a diocese.) The dismissal, or Ite Missa Est is sometimes listed in the Ordinary. These five parts are commonly sung by a solo cantor (Latin cantare, to sing) or schola (Latin: literally school, but choir here), although the priest will often begin the Gloria and Credo in plainchant.

In addition to these parts of the ordinary there is the Canon, (from Greek κᾰνών, a straight rod) which scarcely changes throughout the year. (The Latin noun canon can also refer to 1. a catalogue of writings or rule or 2. a body of priests.) The canon is said after the Sanctus.

There are numerous other small prayers in the Ordinary, including the Pater Noster and Asperges Me, but realize simply that in the missal they'll all be grouped together, sequentially and usually in the center of the missal. There will be prompts throughout the Ordinary, however, referring you to the parts of the mass which vary from week-to-week. These varying parts are called Propers.

From Latin's propria, these parts of the mass are proper to particular occasions, such as The First Week of Advent, the Nativity, or Feast Days for Saints. The Propers of the mass include, in order, the 1. Introit, 2. Collect, 3. Epistle or Lesson 4. Gradual or Tract, [and Sequence] 5. Gospel, 6. Offertory, 7. Secret, 8. Communion, and 9. Postcommunion. These are each short prayers, psalms, or passages from scripture. Many missals in the section for the week's Propers will also print the Vespers. Latin's vesper, evening, gives its name to these daily evening prayers which in part comprise the Divine Office, (Officium Divinum,) renamed at Vatican II to the Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Horarum.) The Divine Office includes eight sections of prayers for use throughout the day, bound in a book known as a Breviary, from Latin's breviarium, or abridgment.

To follow the mass, then, you will need to bounce back and forth between the Ordinary and Proper sections of the missal. Note that while it too varies, the Preface (Latin praefatio) which precedes the Sanctus is considered part of the Canon. The Preface, a solemn proclamation said or sung by the priest in imitation of the Lord, introduces the Canon. The various prefaces are usually located right before the Ordinary in the missal. Finally, the Sermon may be considered of the Ordinary or Propers, depending on the priest.

In order, the main sections of the mass are as follows, but realize that there are other prayers in the Ordinary which are not listed here but are simply, "the mass."

Introit
Kyrie
Gloria
Collects
Epistle or Lesson
Gradual or Tract, and occasionally Sequence
Gospel
Sermon
Creed
Offertory
Secrets
Preface
Sanctus
Canon
Pater Noster
Agnus Dei
Communion
Post-Communion
Ite Missa Est
Last Gospel

Throughout the Ordinary, the instructions for what the priest does are written in red, called rubrics from Latin's rubra, red. In contrast, what he says is written in black, hence Fr. Z's famous invocation to "Say the Black. Do the Red."

A Note on Postures

Unlike the Novus Ordo, the Extraordinary Form, aka Traditional Latin Mass, aka Mass celebrated according to the Missal of 1962, does not prescribe postures for the laity. Many missals come with guides for posture and many are available online, but the lack of prescription suggests that a little common sense, deference to tradition, and potentially homework is necessary. The amicably named Richard Friend has written this useful summary of the issue, but one does not want to be the only man marching in step at the parade. I would hazard two remarks.

First, there is at every mass someone who stands, sits, or kneels at the absolute soonest moment possible, as if a wire is tripped after the final word of each section. This distracts and disrupts the fluidity of the mass. Yes, someone will invariably stand first, but there's a mechanistic mentality inherent in some movements which aggressively hastens the ceremony.

Second, there is usually someone at mass who sits, kneels, or stands through a section in strict adherence to his missal or own beliefs and complete disregard for the posture of the priest and/or congregation. That man may be correct, but he's just made himself the star of the show.

Fr. Moorman advises us that postures, "Do not bind so strictly as to make it a sin to depart from them. The same customs do not prevail in all places; therefore, one should always conform to the local custom." [Moorman, 78]

A Note on Tassels

Many missals come with bookmark tassels by which you can easily move from section to section in the missal. My preference is that the missal not have them sewn in, since in turning the pages by the tassels, which we inevitably do, the tassels eventually get worn down to the point where they no longer protrude from the bottom of the book, rendering them useless. The tassel marks are useful at:
  • The Beginning of the Ordinary
  • The end of the Ordinary
  • The Propers
  • The Prefaces
  • The Kyriale (see below)
  • Other prayers you favor
The Music



If you want to sing or follow the music of the mass, you'll need to do a little more work. Please note that here we are only discussing chant, aka plainchant aka Gregorian chant, settings of the mass. This excludes choral harmonizations, polyphonic settings, and orchestrated versions.

Most missals print in the back a Kyriale, or a collection of chant settings for the Ordinary. Of the eighteen settings some selection is printed. The full selection of chant for the Ordinary and Propers are contained in the Roman Gradual, Gradual, or Graduale. (This is not to be confused with the Proper section called the Gradual, the anthem of psalms between the Epistle and Gospel.) It was called the Antiphonal, Antiphonal Romanum, or Antiphonary, since it includes the sung responses, aka antiphons, of the mass. Today those terms refer to collections of the sung portions of the Divine Office, such as the Antiphonale Romanum, which contains the chant for Vespers. (The Liber Hymnarius contains the music for the other Offices.)

The Gradual, then, includes chants of the Introit, Gradual (in Lent a Tract), Sequence, Offertory, Collect, and Communion. Many Graduals were and are printed with no English instructions or translations of any kind, with even their prefaces and tables of contents in Latin. One should note that some Propers repeat throughout the year, and they are not reprinted but referenced with their page number on the other days to which they are proper.

A few definitions, excluding words with obvious derivatives and cognates to English, may also help one navigate the Proper of Seasons.
  • Adventus - Advent / of Advent
  • Aurora - Daybreak
  • Die - Day
  • Dominica - Sunday, The Lord's Day
  • Feria - Weekday (i.e. not Sunday or a Festival)
  • Hebdomada - 7 days/Week
  • Infra - later than
  • Matutinam - Early [Morning]
  • Nox / Nocte - night / at night
  • Quadragesimae - 40 days/Lent
  • Tempus / Temporis - time / of time
  • Trigesima - 30th
  • Ultimis - last
  • Vigesima - 20th
  • Vigilia - vigil, eve of a feast
With a little creativity, deduction, and reference, one can muddle through even without the soundest grasp of Latin. 

Wikipedia handily lists the structure of the Gradual, but I would briefly outline the Proper of Seasons with page numbers from Solesmes' 1974 edition:
  1. Tempus Adventus (p. 15) - Advent
  2. Tempus Nativitatis (p. 38) - Nativity
  3. Tempus Quadragesimae (p. 62) - Lent
  4. Hebdomada Sancta (p. 137) - Holy Week
  5. Tempus Paschale (p. 185) - Time of Easter
  6. Infra Octavam Paschae (p. 200) - After the Octave of Easter
  7. Tempus Paschale (p. 216) - Sundays after Easter
  8. Dominica Pentecostes (p. 248) - Pentecost
  9. Tempus Per Annus (p. 257) - Time Through the Year, i.e. After Pentecost
  10. Sollemnitates Domini - (p. 371) Solemnities of the Lord
I would also note that the section of Communia, or Commons, contains Propers for people and groups without their own Propers, i.e. "For Educators" or "For Doctors of the Church."

As an aside, the Graduale Romanum is a work of tremendous reference and scholarship. Each chant is labeled with the abbreviations of the manuscripts from which they came. For example, the Gradual chant Tu es Deus, for Hebdomada VI after Pentecost is present in all six manuscripts, but the Alleluia in XI occurs only in the Gradual of Compiègne, from the second half of the 11th century.


There, I hope, you have a little primer for where to find what for praying the Extraordinary Form of the mass. You may also find useful a liturgical calendar. Fr. Moorman's book, listed below, is probably the most succinct explication of the mass. 

Bibliography

Baronius Press. The Daily Missal and Liturgical Missal. 2009.

**Fortescue, Adrian and O'Connell, J. B. Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd. 1958. (First: 1917)

**Fortescue, Adrian. The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. Preserving Christian Publications. 2007. (First: 1912)

*Moorman, Msgr. George J. The Latin Mass Explained. TAN Books and Publishers. 2007. (First: c. 1920)

Pfatteicher, Philip H. A Dictionary of Liturgical Terms. Trinity Press International. 1991.

Solesmes. Graduale Triplex. 1974.

* Printed with Imprimatur
** Printed with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur

Monday, August 4, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Directed by James Gunn. 2014.

*spoilers*

Guardians of the Galaxy has the gusto of Star Wars, the wit of Firefly, and the satirical eye of Hitchhiker's Guide. It doesn't boast these attributes to the same degree of its predecessors, nor does it blaze any new paths, but Guardians pulls off the pastiche in a big, fun way, wrapped up in a neat Marvel bow.

It's not necessary to talk about another sci-fi plot involving galactic war, doomsday weapons, and a motley crew of rebels, but our characters have a little depth worth noting. After the death of his mother, Peter Quill (Chris Platt) was abducted by aliens into a life of crime and roguish escapades. Now he's sort of an intergalactic Indiana Jones, jet-setting from world-to-world and picking up artifacts for sale to the highest bidder. We think he's a cocky cad, trying to get himself known as Star Lord, until we we learn that his would-be nickname has a tender spot in his past.

Two of the incipient guardians are out for revenge against the big baddie, Ronan, who is out to destroy quite a few worlds. Of the two, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is an assassin with some trust issues to work out, and Drax (Dave Bautista) needs to see beyond the rage of avenging his family. The remaining characters also make a pair, with Vin Diesel's woody Groot, a tree-like humanoid with a three word vocabulary, supplying the loyal muscle to Rocket, a talking raccoon. A very talkative raccoon, at that. Rocket's the most interesting character, though, harboring rage and insecurity on account of his engineered existence as a sentient raccoon.

The contrast of these characters–who learn to see beyond themselves and save the world and each other, if you couldn't guess–is the nexus of the movie's plot and entertainment. Often that entertainment comes from the witty banter from Peter and Rocket. In one scene, topping off a short chase with a tasty cherry of a laugh, Peter hops into his ship and after bouncing around, flits off. When his last squeeze pops out of the hold after the commotion he replies, "I honestly forgot you were here." Platt deserves credit for pulling off these lines with a hotshot's aplomb.

The best humor in Guardians, though, is that which plays on the fact that aliens don't know human history and customs. Take Peter's explanation to Gamora about the joy of dancing, an Earth legend about a young man who used his passion for dance to bring a town to life, a legend called Footloose. This laugh is another which spices up and tops off an otherwise plain scene in which the hero tries to woo the female lead. In another dance-related cultural confusion, Peter challenges an alien to... a dance off, much to the confusion of the non-Terran. The alien's befuddled look gets a laugh because we realize that dancing is rather odd when you think about it. Is it aggressive, a secret ruse, or hypnotic power? Should the alien be afraid of the shimmying Star Lord?

In another scene, the hopelessly literal Drax is engaged in debate with Rocket, who explains that the metaphor will go right over his head, to which Drax replies with steadfast deadpan, "Nothing goes over my head." Sometimes the laughs are satirical though, as when the team commits to saving the galaxy. In the time honored cliche, each character stands up and after a little speech, makes his pledge. When Rocket follows suit, he quips, "Fine. I'm standing. We're all standing in a circle like jackasses. Great." There is room for sight gags, too, though. Take the scene where, as Rocket painstakingly lays out the plan which will culminate in the alarm-sounding removal of the device located in the background of the scene, the dimwitted Groot is back there ripping out the device.

There is even humor in the soundtrack, which is a hodgepodge of familiar Terran tunes which have no association or relationship to science fiction or action. The contrast of seeing someone explore an alien cave not to dreadful terror-inducing chords but to Hooked On a Feeling is itself novel and amusing. The novelty isn't a gimmick, though, for the running theme through Peter's arc is coming to terms with his last Earthbound memory, the death of his mother, who always gave him cassette mix-tapes. The music, which Peter plays on an aging Walkman to which he is very attached, is a way for a lonely man to connect to his past and tune out his surroundings. When he's at last ready to open a final gift from his mother, one last cassette tape, we realize he's ready to acknowledge the past as finished and to move on.

Yes, the plot is familiar and the supporting characters are rather skimpily developed, but Guardians keeps its lean parts moving quickly and without confusion. While the writers and producers should be commended for their continuity among the now ten films making up the Marvel Universe, I had a little trouble keeping some of the aliens and their planets straight. Maybe I'm getting old, but I could have used a few reminders. Guardians keeps the action pretty limited too, which after Transformers 4 is a huge relief. In fact Guardians is less an action or superhero movie than a comedy, an entertaining one which keeps the jokes coming laugh after laugh.