Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Music in Angels and Demons

So, I saw Angels and Demons last night, the movie supposedly based on one of those Dan Brown novels about how awful the Catholic Church is. There is a quaint "village atheist" quality to this material that I find more funny than threatening, and there is something to like about this genre. It always portrays the Church as powerful, ominous, mysterious, bound to tradition, wealthy, adorned with beauty and majesty, steeped in history, dogmatic and unmodernized, with an iron-fisted attachment to a world gone by,

Well, I can think of ways to portray the Church in a less flattering light! There is something magnificently alluring about all of this, and part of me thinks that a movie like this probably works to achieve a certain evangelistic purpose. The reality of the local parish and its guitar quintet is likely to be disappointing by comparison.

It also reminds me of the old Jewish joke. A Jew in Germany in the early 1930s demands to know why his Jewish friend always reads the Nazi papers. His friend puts down the Nazi paper and explains: "The Nazi press portrays the Jews as wealthy, all-powerful, very clever, and running the banks and the government. The Jewish press describes us as poor powerless victims in grave danger of annihilation. Who do I want to believe?"

Actually, the real reason I like to see any film in which the Catholic Church is featured prominently concerns the music. Let's just say that "On Eagles Wings" is never featured at a Catholic funeral on film. And it pleases me to see confirmed that even the most secular parts of the industrial media sector understand what sacred music probably sounds like.

Sure enough, this movie opens with the Introit of the Requiem Mass playing at the funeral. Indeed, whenever there is a need to call forth some sense of solemn liturgy, a modal piece comes on featuring vague outlines of Kyrie Eleison and Angus Dei. There were several people's chants feature here and there – probably more than most parishes hear in the course of one liturgical year, sad to say.

The score by Hans Zimmer seems to have more than what made it into the film. The website of the movie has some more elaborate musical settings of some liturgical texts. At the movie itself, audiences mostly heard Zimmer's signature hoo-ha sound designed to elicit some ominous sense of Batman, or Gladiator, or Cardinals meeting in conclave or something. It is mostly interchangeable, though I do find it fun.

Actually, as everyone knows, Hollywood has never finally let go of the view that the Catholic Church should have Catholic Church music, and, in this sense, Hollywood has long been ahead of most Catholic publishers.

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