July 24, 2022 11.20 a.m.
On May 30, 2022, Pope Francis’s Vatican pronounced a new plenary indulgence that is targeted to the faithful who in loving service of “grandparents and the elderly” visit them in person or in some way “virtually” on Sunday, July 24, 2022.
In the 1981 Universal Pictures’ film On Golden Pond, 69-year-old Ethel (Katharine Hepburn) proclaimed to her husband, 79-year-old Norman (Henry Fonda) that she had met “a nice middle-aged couple, just like us.” Her comment prompts the following exchange:
Norman: If they’re just like us, they’re not middle-aged.
Ethel: Of course, they are.
Norman: Middle-aged means the middle, Ethel. Middle of life. People don’t live to be 150!
Ethel: Well, we’re at the far edge of middle age. That’s all.
Norman: We’re not, you know. We’re not middle-aged. You’re old, and I’m ancient.
Norman’s take might or might not be a good barometer for who constitutes “the elderly.” Yet the viewpoint of the new Catholic plenary indulgence – as well as the Academy-Award- winning film directed by Mark Rydell – is larger than a precise demographic and more about relationships that bring a renewal of life, what is often called grace, that occurs in both of them.
Sunday, July 24, 2022, marks the celebration by the Catholic Church of its “World Day for Grandparents and The Elderly.” By visiting or simply contacting the elderly on that single day, Catholics would be eligible to receive a plenary indulgence.
The Vatican stated that the indulgence is available “to the faithful who devote adequate time to visit, in presence or virtually, through the media, their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty.” In addition to this action, there are certain other rules and conditions to fulfill. These include sacramental confession and the reception of Holy Communion within the octave of July 24 whose last day is July 31, the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556, Basque), so to receive the lifetime remission of one’s sins.
Ethel and Norman Thayer have a grown daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda) who, with her new fiancé Bill Ray and his 13-year-old son, Billy Ray, Jr., are arriving to Golden Pond for Norman’s 80th birthday party. It is already past dark and they are late which prompts this exchange between Norman and Ethel:
Norman: Where the hell are they? I’m getting older by the minute.
Ethel: They said they’d be here when they get here.
Norman: That’s a hell of an attitude. No wonder we don’t have any grandchildren.
In On Golden Pond, Norman and Ethel make their way by boat to a grocery and filling station on the lake. As Ethel goes in to shop, Norman sees that the boat’s tank gets filled. The two teenage boys working the pumps indirectly make fun of Norman’s age. This leads to the old man’s reaction:
Norman: What are ya, a couple of nitwits? Think it’s funny being old?
My whole goddamn body’s fallin’ apart! Sometimes I can’t even go to the bathroom when I want to but I’m still a man and can take on you punks.
While Chelsea and Bill spend the summer in Europe, Ethel and Norman agree to host 13-year-old Billy for a month on Golden Pond. On their first day, Ethel and Norman propose a fishing outing. This leads to the following exchange with Billy:
Billy: Listen. I mean, I know I’m just being dumped here. Which is like my middle name. You turkeys don’t want me.
Norman: Bullshit. I’m 67 years older than you. How do you know what I want? We’re going fishing now. We want you to go along. If you want to come with us, I suggest you get your ass down to the dock in two minutes. Okay, Mrs. Turkey, let’s go.
It soon becomes evident that 13-year-old Billy and this elderly couple still without grandchildren are enjoying being together on Golden Pond and grow close doing so. In pursuit of Walter, the largest trout in Golden Pond, Norman and Billy find themselves on a dark and rainy afternoon in Purgatory Cove hunting down the elusive prize fish. It leads to this exchange:
Norman: Gettin’ dark, Chelsea.
Billy: Who are you calling Chelsea? I’m Billy, remember? Hey, come on, man. Hey, are you okay?
Norman: Of course, I’m okay!
Billy: Okay. Hey, we better hurry up and catch Walter, huh? I mean, I’m not gonna be here much longer.
Norman: Yeah. Neither am I.
Billy: I’ll miss you, Norman.
Billy: Norman! Hey, Norman, look! Shit! I got the mother! I got ‘im!
The theme for 2022’s “World Day for The Grandparents and Elderly” is that “in old age they will still bear fruit” (Psalm 92:15).
Chelsea and Bill return from Europe having gotten married in Brussels. Norman and Chelsea look to improve their relationship. It leads to the following exchange:
Chelsea: Norman, I want to talk to you.
Norman: What seems to be the problem?
Chelsea: There’s no problem. I just…want to talk to you. I think that… maybe you and I should have the kind of relationship that we’re supposed to have.
Norman: What kind of relationship is that?
Chelsea: Well, you know…like a father and a daughter.
Norman: Worried about the will, are you?
Chelsea: Just stop it. I don’t want anything. It seems that you and me have been mad at each other for so long.
Norman: I didn’t know we were mad. I thought we just didn’t like each other.
Chelsea: I want to be your friend.
While Chelsea and her two Bills leave Golden Pond for their home in California, all have found a new happiness in each of their lives. The relationship of Norman and Ethel, too, is affected by these simple visits. At the start of the film, at their first arrival to the house on Golden Pond, Ethel points out the loons to her husband.
Ethel: Norman! Come here. Come here. Norman! Hurry up! The loons. The loons. They’re welcoming us back.
Norman: I don’t hear a thing.
By way of their loving relationships that dramatically unfold, Norman and Ethel have grown, paradoxically perhaps, to accept each other’s mortality – Norman who worried about it and Ethel who denied it. At the film’s end, it is Norman who draws Ethel’s attention to the loons, birds that mate for life.
Norman: Ethel, listen. The loons… they’ve come around to say good-bye. Just the two of them now. Their baby’s all grown up and moved to Los Angeles or somewhere.
July 20, 2022 7.50 p.m.
Interesting discussion between two Civil War experts – Gary W. Gallagher (Nau professor emeritus at the University of Virginia) and Garry Adelman (Chief historian at American Battlefield Trust) – on Civil War movies, the Civil War on film, and the Civil War and film. They look at about 10 films spanning from Gone With the Wind (1939) directed by Victor Fleming and The Red Badge of Courage (1951) directed by John Huston to Lincoln (2012) directed by Steven Spielberg and The Free State of Jones (2016) directed by Gary Ross.
Citing examples, the experts ask the question: “What’s better? To make a great movie with (historical) mistakes that might inspire people or to make a (historically) perfect movie that may or may not?” They agreed no movie made so far has done both.
I find the Civil War period one of the most fascinating in US history. It was a major upheaval in the country’s politics, society, and military stance both nationally and internationally. At “four score and seven years“ of age or thereabouts, the nation clearly experienced the seminal watershed event for itself and the world.
Yet, as these experts’ survey of available Civil War films suggests, there is close to a dearth of major Civil War films – and certainly fewer that are good or great. Even compared to films set during or about other U.S. wartime periods – like World War II or the Vietnam War – the 4-year-long U.S. Civil War between 1861 and 1865 along with its lead-up and aftermath has produced perhaps just one or two, maybe three, truly great films. These experts cite Glory directed by Edward Zwick from 1989 as the very best of the best of the Civil War films. Since it is the only film to receive their top rating (“5 cannonballs”), it leaves the impression that perhaps there is even more that can be desired from the Civil War film inventory in the future.
It hopefully points to the fact that the Civil War – which has a proven track record for successful popular cinema – is ripe for major new cinematic projects to be produced with its challenges for engaging storytelling, topical exploration of ideas, people, and events, and any other further compelling cinematic qualities. In this way new films about the U.S. Civil War for its subject and setting can look to represent anew this momentous event and turning point in American history with irrepressible power. To the degree such new films, like some older ones, strive for high entertainment value and a keen historic appreciation they will enter a canon of films having achieved what is so far rare in its cinematic history.
July 15, 2022, 4.04 p.m.
If it rains on St. Swithun’s day (July 15), according to tradition, it will keep raining for 40 days. In Chicagoland it has been pouring rain today.
St. Swithun (the name means “Strong Bear Cub”) was a late 9th century bishop of Winchester, the royal city, in England. Not much is known about Swithun except that he became the 18th bishop of Winchester in 852. Before that he was a secular clerk who had a reputation for virtue and learning.
Attached to the West Saxon Court, Swithun educated the king’s son, Æthelwulf, who later was the father of Alfred the Great (c. 848-899). King Alfred had a reputation for learning and being a gracious king who was level-headed. History credits Swithun for some of the royal court’s civilized culture that encouraged education, improved the legal system, reformed the military structure, and added overall to the ordinary people’s quality of life.
Wessex under Alfred’s leadership was the only one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to survive the Danish attacks (the Vikings) of the 9th century. England in the 10th century was unified under Æthelwulf’s and Alfred’s line.
Bishop Swithun was a builder and one of the original contributors to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of Old English annals. Humble miracles were attributed to Swithun in his lifetime and after his death.
When Swithun died in 863, the charismatic personality was buried per his request in the cathedral churchyard. Swithun wanted passers-by to be able to walk over his grave and for the rain to fall upon it. It is not known how Swithun became directly associated with the weather – “If on St. Swithun’s day it really pours, You’re better off to stay indoors” was one English ditty – except that a few earlier saints in France had similar meteorological tales told about them.
Released in late 1966, Winchester Cathedral (2.20 minutes) was a no.1 song in the U.S. and Canada. Performed by the British pop group, The New Vaudeville Band, it was composed by Geoff Stephens, the group’s founder. In 1967 Winchester Cathedral won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording winning over the Beatles (Eleanor Rigby), the Beach Boys (Good Vibrations), the Mamas & the Papas (Monday, Monday), the Monkees (The Last Train to Clarksville) and the Association (Cherish).
July 14, 2022, 4.07 p.m.
July 14, 2022 – Happy Bastille Day!
I visited Paris for the second time as a teenager in 1979 when I went there with two friends from Ireland for a short break to the City of Light. I had been in Dublin that summer studying Irish History at Trinity College. It was Bastille Day, July 14, 1979, and I was photographed standing at the Trocadéro with the Eiffel Tower behind me.