Monday, 31 October 2011

Turbulent Priests

Twenty-five years ago yesterday (Sunday) the body of missing Polish priest Father Popieluszko was pulled out of a canal outside Warsaw, where it had been dumped by Communist security police.

The 37-year-old priest and his demonstrable sympathy for Gdansk shipyard workers of the trades union Solidarity made him a target of the fearful Polish Communist state. Murdering him did not change the course that history was taking; if anything, it added to the current which swept away the regime within a few years of Father Popieluszko's assassination.

The part played by churches in the political events of the late 1980s among the members of the Warsaw Pact appears to have been obscured in this country by the dust kicked up over the anti-capitalism protest outside St Paul's Cathedral - admission £14.50.

The dust is likely to get thicker following today's resignation of the Dean, the Very Reverend Graeme Knowles, with the threat of bailiffs looming larger.

By and large the English prefer their priests to remain good shepherds watching over their flocks. The likes of Trevor Huddlestone, Donald Soper and the former Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend David Jenkins, were the exception rather than the rule.

We don't like to see men of the cloth (let alone women of the cloth) getting arrested outside nuclear submarine bases, commissioning reports about poverty or taking on elected governments - leave that to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was alright for the Archbishop of York, Dr David Sentamu, to rail against Robert Mugabe because hardly anybody here liked Zimbawe's dictator.

A priest who offends against the conservative expectations of the silent (agnostic) majority, especially if he seems to be acting out of faith, is likely to end up as a caricature trendy vicar in an Alan Bennett story, as in A Bed Among the Lentils.

Elsewhere, expectations are different. Just after October 9, 1989, the Lutheran church of St Nicholas in Leipzig became the centre of a Monday evening peace demonstration against the Communist East German Government. The state was still celebrating its 40th anniversary when an estimated 50,000 people gathered.

In the weeks that followed, those Monday evening church-based demos grew to 120,000 and then more than 300,000. Reportedly, they continued in Leipzig (and in other cities) until March 1990 - long after the GDR had been tossed into the dustbin of history.

I daresay there are would-be turbulent priests in this country who would love to play a part, probably a central part, in stirring up history-shaping change. You would have thought the goings on at St Paul's was their opportunity; but, as far as I know, the outspoken ones have remained silent, preferring instead to moralise about events in Libya.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Thin Spite OK, Vi...

That's an anagram of THINK POSITIVE, the inspirational exclamation that is the watchword of Bradford's ninth or tenth attempt since 1986 at a community cheer up campaign, to encourage the sceptical among its long-suffering citizenry to always look on the bright side.

Count me among them. When marketing chuggers and politicians bang on earnestly about the importance of being positive, corporate, collective, my instinct is to lift up a corner of the carpet to see what they've been sweeping under it.

I tend to feel the same way whenever English film critics are universal in their praise. I thought No Country For Old Men, which most of them adored, was tedious and incomprehensible. The book wasn't much better. Virtually everyone else I know who has seen it think the film's a masterpiece I saw it again recently, partly to test my own opinion; alas, it was even worse. The villain with his gas tank and 1970s Leonard Cohen hairstyle looked like a sleepwalking dentist. I'd rather watch Hombre. Now that is a masterpiece, dealing with the same themes of nihilism, greed and violence, but much more coherently.

The remake of True Grit, lauded as truer to the spirit of the novel than the John Wayne film, was wordy, worthy, but tiresome, in spite of the best efforts of Jeff Bridges. I suppose I am not a fan of the Cohen Brothers.

Having read some four and five-star reviews of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy I hurried along to see it, in anticipation of a great evening in the cinema. Within five minutes the thing struck me as misconceived. Gary Oldman, who had gained widespread acclaim as George Smiley, was miscast. Not out of his depth but in the wrong part. At the end I knew it was a film I would not want to watch again. Friends, however, thought it was superb.

Peter Hitchens, I have just discovered, felt even more let down than I did. He knows Le Carre's novel, which I don't, and remembers the BBC television serial with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, which I didn't see. Some of his readers found the film too slow and left before the end. For me the telling of the tale was slow but the technique of telling it, fast choppy cuts across time, was confusing. At the end I had no idea how Smiley had discovered that Bill Hayden was the Russian double agent. The film deterred me from buying the book, whereas Hombre had me grabbing for Elmore Leonard's slim novel the first time I saw it.

An old woman with sly sniper's eyes once remarked that I had a closed mind. Not being particularly quick on the verbal come-back, I didn't tell her that people who know me have little trouble finding the equivlalent of 'Open Sesame' to engage my attention. In my defence I went to see The King's Speech simply because a shred of it had been filmed in Bradford. The critics loved it, so I was sceptical. I came away thinking it a fine film, centring on the unlikely friendship between two very different characters.

I have no problem with emotionalism or 'love interest' except where, Hollywood style, it is added in for commercial interest, which I think of as slop. Men and women with perfect teeth, impeccable personal hygiene and untroubled by the imperatives of hunger, thirst, belly and bowel movements, declare their undying love as the world goes up in flames or their trains leave the station in opposite directions. THINK POSITIVE! I hear the deceitful voice of my bad angel say, until the voice of my good angel says BOLLOCKS!

My tendency is to move, after due consideration, from a negative to a positive. That's not how it is for everybody, merely how the key seems to fit my lock.