Category Archives: movies

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words

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A new Michael Pack documentary on Justice Thomas is being shown in select theaters.

……[T]he film connects Justice Thomas’s roots in a time and place when black Americans were denied the dignity of equal treatment under the law with his eventual embrace of a natural rights and natural law philosophy that he adopted in part through the influence of John Marini and Ken Masugi. Both worked for Justice Thomas in the eighties and are now senior fellows at the Claremont Institute. During most cuts in the film, an image of the Declaration’s lines about all men being created equal runs across the screen.

To Mr. Pack’s credit, however, the movie never descends into a con law lecture. It’s an opportunity to hear the story of an amazing but winding journey from the standpoint of Justice Thomas and, to a lesser extent, his wife Virginia. Mr. Pack recorded thirty hours of interviews, including some recordings of Justice Thomas reading the most beautiful passages from his memoir. Laced through the movie are scenes of a small boat seen from above navigating the maze-like wetlands around Pin Point, Georgia, the site of the Justice’s earliest memories. The movie’s original score by Charlie Barnett is beautiful and often plaintive.

With his brother and their somewhat erratic mother, Justice Thomas spent his first few years in Pin Point, where the poverty experienced by his Gullah family and neighbors was livable and off-set by the tight-knit community. His father abandoned the family when he was two, and his mother was able to survive for a while on hard work. When she moved Clarence and his brother to Savannah after a fire destroyed their home, they found the urban poverty much more unbearable. Justice Thomas recalls the sewage from tenement toilets being flushed out into the yards. Archival photos of the city show the boards that denizens would position from the street to their porches to avoid walking through the waste.

When young Clarence was seven, his mother asked her own parents, Myers and Christine Anderson, to take in her two young boys. While Christine was a comforting figure, Myers was nearly illiterate, but a fiercely independent thinker whose memorization of swaths of the Bible had led him to be a Republican and also convert to Catholicism in the late 1940s. This unbending disciplinarian believed that the curse of the fall relating to working by the sweat of one’s brow was best embraced as a reality. He greeted the boys with a warning: “The damn vacation is over.” It was not an act… more.

From the Pin Point Heritage Museum, Savannah, Georgia:




Pin Point from Moon River Bridge 2005

Baroness Orczy’s “Scarlet Pimpernel”



A few years ago my friend enticed me to see the 1934 movie, The Scarlet Pimpernel.  I loved it and have seen it at least twice since.  This week I found a used copy of Baroness Orczy’s book of the same title, from which the movie was adapted.  This particular edition includes an introduction and notes by Sarah Juliette Sasson, which, alone was worth buying the book.  From the jacket:

Sarah Juliette Sasson earned a PhD in French and comparative literature from Columbia University, and is a lecturer there in the Department of French and Romance Philology.  She is the managing editor of the Romantic Review, a journal dedicated to Romance literatures.
Prior to Sasson’s introduction is a three page section titled “The World of Baroness Orczy and The Scarlet Pimpernel.”  It begins:
1865  Baroness Emmuska Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy is born in Tarna-Ors, Hungary, on September 23 to a noble family.  Her father, Baron Felix Orczy, is an accomplished conductor and composer.  Rudyard Kipling is born.  U.S. president Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.
1867  Francis Joseph I is crowned king of Hungary in Budapest, following the creation of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy.  Romeo et Juliette, an opera by Charles Gounod, debuts in Paris.
1868  During a party celebrating the fifth birthday of Emma’s sister, Madeleine, peasants set fire to the family estate, protesting the introduction of mechanized farming equipment.  The family moves to Budapest, where Baron Orczy, at the urging and recommendation of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, accepts a post as administrator of the National Theater.  Das Rheingold, an opera by family friend Richard Wagner, debuts in Munich.
1871  Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass is published.
Among other notable people mentioned in this timetable are: Thomas Edison, Franz Kafka, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper, Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and the Wright brothers.
Baronness Orczy wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel in five weeks in 1901.  Two years later she and her husband collaborated on a stage version which was produced at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, England.  She went on to write several stories and books that featured the Scarlet Pimpernel.  She also wrote a couple of series of detective stories.  One, Lady Molly of Scotland Yard featured the first female crime solver.
The timeline ends:
1947  Baroness Orczy publishes her autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life. She dies on November 12 in London.
I’d like to read that book too.

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis



Tallis’s original tune is in the Phrygian mode and was one of the nine he contributed to the Psalter of 1567 for the Archbishop of CanterburyMatthew Parker. When Vaughan Williams edited the English Hymnal of 1906, he also included this melody (number 92). Parker’s original words were:

Why fumeth in fight: The Gentils spite,
    In fury raging stout?
Why taketh in hond: The people fond,
    Vayne thinges to bring about?
The kinges arise: The lordes devise,
    In counsayles mett thereto:
Agaynst the Lord: With false accord,
    Against his Christ they go.
  —  Psalm 2:1–2 —  Archbishop Parker’s Psalter (1567)[4]

Part of Vaughan’s composition was featured in the 2003 film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

See the Conquering Hero Comes

I enjoyed an old movie this week, the 1937 production of The Prisoner of Zenda, and was surprised to hear familiar music accompanying the coronation scene.  It is an Easter hymn that I first sang with my Presbyterian friends, Thine is the Glory, Risen, Conquering Son.  I did not know the melody is from George Fredrick Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, there titled, See the Conquering Hero Comes.

If you like the movie you might also enjoy the film music score.

And here is the King’s College Choir singing the hymn:

The text:

Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory Thou o’er death has won.
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave-clothes where Thy body lay.
Thine is the glory, Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.
Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom.
Let His church with gladness hymns of triumph sing,
For her Lord now liveth; Death hath lost its sting.
Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.
No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life!
Life is naught without Thee; Aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors, thro’ Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe thro’ Jordan to Thy home above.
Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.

The Intellectual Life and Real Communion

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In an article published in The Imaginative Conservative, Zena Hitz asks, “What is the point of studying the humanities?”  Noting decreasing enrollments in humanities studies, program cuts and general disinterest, she says this:

[T]he crisis in the humanities is not just a crisis caused by some Bad Guys who want to destroy All That Is Good. It is primarily something far more worrying: a crisis of confidence among ourselves, a crisis caused by a failure of self-understanding. We are haunted by a sense that what we do is somehow inadequate or pointless. This is a failure of imagination as much as it is a failure of understanding.

Mona Achache’s 2009 film “The Hedgehog” (“Le hérisson”) presents an uncommon image of intellectual life…..The twist that “The Hedgehog” puts on this theme—and here it follows the novel it is inspired by, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery—is that this unsettling but authentic human connection has its source and basis in intellectual life.

The intellectual life as portrayed in this film has four
central features:
1) It is a form of the inner life of a person, a place of retreat and reflection.
2) As such it is withdrawn from the world, where “the world” is understood in its (originally Platonic, later Christian) sense as the locus of competition and struggle for wealth, power, prestige, and status.
3) It is a source of dignity—made obvious in this case by Renee’s low status as an unattractive working-class woman without children and past child-bearing age.
4) It opens space for communion: It allows for a profound connection between human beings.

Of these four features of intellectual life, it is the notion of withdrawal that is centrally important. It is the removal of intellectual life from the world that accounts for its true inwardness—an inwardness distinct from the narcissistic inner tracking of one’s social standing. It is the withdrawn person’s independence from contests over wealth or status that provides or reveals a dignity that can’t be ranked or traded. This dignity, along with the universality of the objects of the intellect—that is, that they are available to everyone—is what opens up space for real communion.

My own emphasis here:

…there are things beyond citizenship, more splendid and more fundamental—and that these very things, at the present moment more than ever, need to be secured—and need to be secured most especially from the infinite demands of citizenship.

It is in the intellectual life that we find true equality and dignity, not in outward appearances, accomplishments, or wealth.  When we have a rich intellectual life we are better equipped to view the world with imagination and hope, and we are able to enjoy real communion with others.