Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Katy Perry's "ET:" or the Rise of the Possessed

"The Sin" by Franz von Stuck, 1893.

The rise on the U.S. and World Billboard Charts of Katy Perry’s single “E.T.” finally pushed me into writing this blog. The song’s lyrics immediately bring to mind last year's hit from Lady Gaga: “Bad Romance.” (In 2010, I was immediately disturbed by the songs lyrics and the imagery in the music video.) But now, back to Perry; her song contains the lyrics: “Kiss me, kiss me / Infect me with your loving / Fill me with your poison.” I think this is a first, for a pop-song, a strange homage to alien abduction. As a side note, the alien abduction phenomena, I believe, is directly linked to forms of demonic possession, with their always overt references to sexual experimentation on humans by strange beings. Then Lady Gaga’s song goes like this: “I want your ugly / I want your disease...” The desire to be infected or possessed is all the more odd when viewed as a statement on post-AIDS epidemic morality. I am also reminded of vampirism; especially as portrayed in the old British-Hammer Studio productions of the 1960s. Christopher Lee, as Dracula, always seduced his female victims first; making them come to him. They wanted to be taken over. There was a strange reenactment of classical vampirism at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Like a succubus from the past, Madonna appeared with Brittany Spears on stage and performed a ritualistic kiss. It was almost as if a deadly spirit had been transferred from the aging sex symbol to her younger protégé; contaminating a new generation.
What I find interesting about Lady Gaga, is that the darkness or perversion of her persona and music are completely upfront. With Perry and Spears, everything is more or less sugar-coated; (Perry‘s “California Gurls” video is the penultimate example;) although “E.T.” is certainly a departure for Perry. For this reason, Perry and Spears' brand of demonology is all the more sinister. Just as the famous painting, "The Sin" by Franz von Stuck of a seemingly beautiful woman, their illusion of beauty hides the dark reality. Now, back to Lady Gaga: unlike Perry and Spears, Lady Gaga is not descended from Madonna, but from other shock-rockers like Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. But distinct from her male counterparts, who produced nothing that was not ugly, Lady Gaga is able to infuse glamour and even some beauty into her imagery. For instance, in the video for “Bad Romance” there are close-ups of Lady Gaga crying, where she almost looks beautiful. But then the video cuts to images of her nude back with bulging ribs and vertebrae. The glamour of evil is left raw and exposed. Like the vampire‘s prospective victims, you can turn away or embrace it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Passion of the Christ

A few years back, some were shocked by the graphic scenes of Christ's torture in Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ." I found this painting by Juan Morlete Ruiz that pre-dates Gibson’s movie by over 200 years. Here, Christ’s agony is crystallized like a pre-historic insect captured in amber. The image is not fleeting, but still (forcing the viewer to look at the bloodied back of Our Lord.) There is no escaping it. Looking closer at the painting, the viewer sees the shadow of Christ’s ribs pocking through the thin veil of flesh still remaining. Beneath the body of Christ are several angels wiping up Christ’s blood with white cloths and then wringing-out the precious contents into a chalice. Another angel picks up the pieces of torn flesh and places them on a paten. This is certainly in-your-face catechism: perhaps intended for the new uneducated converts of the American missions. The none-too-subtle point needs to hit home once again in the United States were 70% of Catholics are unaware of the Church’s teachings on the Real Presence.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Movie Recommendation for Lent: "The Robe"

The somewhat forgotten masterpiece “The Robe is my movie recommendation for Lent this year. Released in 1953, “The Robe” is the story of the Roman tribune Marcellus and his quest for personal sanity that eventually leads to spiritual magnificence. Marcellus is a spoiled son of a Senator who spends his days in Rome drinking, carousing and insulting the future Emperor Caligula. When word gets to Caligula about the feckless Marcellus, he banishes him to Jerusalem.

While in Jerusalem, Marcellus takes part in the Crucifixion of Jesus. Some of Christ’s blood drips onto Marcellus; he is wrapped in Christ’s robe, and quickly goes mad. In my opinion, this is the greatest part of the film: is Marcellus insane or just ripped between the two worlds of Roman decadence and Christian purity. He returns to Rome, and is hurriedly sent back to Palestine to find the robe. Will destroying the robe free him of Christ’s power? Marcellus finds out that the robe did not bewitch him, but opened his eyes to the error of his life and the wicked choices he has made.
The great truth that this film holds for many of today’s viewers is the witness it gives to the power of not only God’s forgiveness, but His ability to heal our deepest most secret wounds. In a world were people try in vain to mask their pains and sorrows with drugs, alcohol, luxury or sex, “The Robe” reveals the soothing force of God’s curative strength. The star of “The Robe” is an interesting case in point. The super-talented Richard Burton spent much of his life wrestling with his personal demons while being overpowered by his alcoholism and his obsession with the ethereally beautiful, but self-absorbed Elizabeth Taylor. In the end, possessing the most beautiful woman in the world did not bring happiness. When Marcellus finally touches the robe for a second time he convulses with expulsive joy. All the shame and heaviness of his sins are thrown off. By embracing Jesus Christ, revealing to him our sins (through the Sacrament of Penance,) in the film we see Marcellus confess to Saint Peter, we can start life over again - free from the burdens of our transgressions.

“The Robe” is available on DVD.

Note: All pictures from films that I will post on this blog are from my personal movie memorabilia collection. Some of which are on display at St.