- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2010

Value of art

“It’s a bit funny, after having seen [‘The Secret of Kells’], that I was concerned even for a moment that it might periodically lapse into Christian propaganda. If anything. I’d guess that the devout would bristle very distinctly at [directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s] ecu-mystical vision, wherein Christendom itself is protected by mysterious (and expressly forbidden) Celtic paganisms.

“In short: the stern Abbot Cellach (voiced with a stentorian rumble by Brendan Gleeson) can only think of one thing, and that is to build, build, build a massive wall around the abbey of Kells, in order to ward off the Viking hordes whose invasion is imminent. In the midst of this singleminded Doozery, Brother Aidan (Mick Lally), a legendary artist of illuminated manuscripts, arrives at Kells, seeking not so much protection or even a safe workshop from which to complete his masterwork the ‘Book of Iona.’ No, he simply wants the book itself to be saved for humanity, and he needs to pass this work down to a worthy heir. This would be young Brendan (Evan McGuire), the abbot’s nephew, whose curiosity, not only about art and spirituality but about the very world outside the abbey walls, is a thorn deep in Cellach’s side.

“Thematically, ‘The Secret of Kells’ could scarcely be more transparent. Protagonist Brendan has two father figures, each emblematic of two ways of life. Is mere survival reason enough for human existence? Or does the power of art, the heightened vision of things that it can inculcate when it, and we, are at our finest, challenge us to take great risks?”

- Michael Sicinski, writing on “The Secret of Kells” in March at his site the Academic Hack

Image of the Other

“Routinely, I read comments either caught in our spam filter or which appear with our posts where readers describe the Tea Party movement as racist and/or anti-gay. Yet, I wonder how many of those folks have ever actually been to a Tea Party. These critics are not describing the Tea Parties that are, but conservatives as they see them. They’re describing an image in their own mind, not the protests taking place. …

“No matter what we say or do, it’s unlikely to change the narrow views of these prejudiced critics of our movement. The reality of the situation won’t change the perception conjured up by their imagination. They want Tea Parties to be racist and anti-gay, so racist and anti-gay they shall be.

“Perhaps, to prove them wrong, we should bear signs proclaiming that we’re ‘Lesbians for Liberty’ or ‘Homos for Freedom’ the next time we attend Tea Parties to see how our fellow protesters react. Wait, our readers did just that. And they weren’t taunted or asked to leave, indeed, they were made welcome, quite welcome. Their experience kind of defeats the narrative.”

- B. Daniel Blatt, writing on “The racist & anti-gay Tea Parties in left-wingers’ minds,” on March 23 at Gay Patriot

Mussolini chic

“After defending such clients as Sacco and Vanzetti and Charles Ponzi (yes, that Ponzi), my paternal grandfather, a lawyer and Jewish Italophile, published in 1930 a slim book, ‘Italy and Your Senses,’ which is not, as the title suggests, a poetic tribute to Italian art, topography or people but rather a valentine to Benito Mussolini, whom he considered the resurrection and the light. …

“He was not alone. Italy’s fascist prime minister was one of the country’s great tourist attractions in the Roaring Twenties, for Mussolini was a charismatic showman … No matter that his political philosophy was hollow at the core, as Frances Stonor Saunders points out in her superb new book, ‘The Woman Who Shot Mussolini,’ or that between 1922 and 1943 Il Duce sent at least a million people to an early grave. He remained, for a very long time, the darling statesman of the conservative press and the fashionable fascists of Europe, although they conceded that he might be a bit hasty and brutal.

“Still and all, according to the British ambassador to Italy, Mussolini was ‘like any other gentleman.’ The King of England decorated him with the Order of the Bath, and Austen Chamberlain, the British foreign secretary (whose half brother was Neville, future prime minister and champion of the Munich accord), considered Mussolini a sincere, charming patriot, and certainly preferable to any other ‘Italian.’ Sure he was a dictator, the foreign secretary admitted, but one simply could not ‘apply British standards to un-British conditions.’ ”

- Brenda Wineapple, writing on “A Wise Unknowingness: On Violet Gibson,” in the April 5 edition of the Nation

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