Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Saintly Cinema

Today is the Feast of All Saints (a Catholic Holy Day, formerly known as the Feast of All Hallows, which in turn is where All Hallows' Eve or, as we know it, Halloween, gets its name). Three outstanding films about saints come to mind. The 1943 film The Song of Bernadette relates the story of St Bernadette's vision of Blessed Mother in a garbage dump in the French town of Lourdes. The film earned 12 Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and won four, including Best Actress for Jennifer Jones as St. Bernadette. The 1964 film Becket, is the story of St Thomas Becket's unexpected opposition to King Henry II after being appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Richard Burton as Thomas Becket. It won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Following on the theme of Becket, the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons tells the story of St Thomas More and his refusal to side with King Henry VIII over the Pope on the issue of divorce -- a decision that ultimately resulted in his death by beheading. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor for Paul Scofield as More. These are the only performances to ever win an Oscar for a saint on screen (unless you count Edmund Gwenn's wonderful performance as Saint Nick in A Miracle on 34th St.) Other films focusing on saints, such as The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima or Franco Zeffirelli's film of St Francis of Assisi, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, didn't fare as well. In the 1970s and 80s, Hollywood turned to fiction (Resurrection) and other faiths (Gandhi) for inspiration, although the 1986 foreign entry Therese (about St. Therese of Lisieux) became a critical favorite. It will remain to be seen if the success of The Passion of the Christ will renew an interest in films of holy men and women.

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