Thursday, June 17, 2010

L'Osservatore Discusses…The Blues Brothers

by Edward Pentin

Is The Blues Brothers, which turns 30 tomorrow, a Catholic movie?

L’Osservatore Romano thinks so – and has devoted a whole page in tomorrow’s edition, plus an editorial from its editor, Professor Gian Maria Vian, to explain why.

It’s the newspaper’s latest foray into pop culture which, like its articles on the Beatles, Michael Jackson and others, will be welcomed by some as a refreshing innovation but leave others bemused and not a little irritated. “Vatican Gives Thumbs Up to The Blues Brothers” is the likely headline if some secular papers choose to run the story tomorrow.

So what does Vian say? He does actually seem to make some valid points, though I don’t know the film well so it’s hard to say.

“The clues are not lacking in a work where the details are certainly not random,” he writes. “To start with, there’s the framed photograph of a young and strong John Paul II in the house of the landlord of Lou ‘Blue’ Marini – a man with a Sicilian accent and dressed in black, therefore Catholic.”

Vian goes on to list other Catholic pointers in the film, such as the Catholic orphanage, called St. Helena and the Holy Shroud, where the two protagonists, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues, grow up, “Sister Mary Stigmata, called the Penguin,” who runs the institution, and the “unbearable Nazis of Illinois.”

He goes through the plot, a tale of redemption for paroled convict Jake and his brother Elwood, who take on “a mission from God” to save the orphanage from foreclosure. For anyone unfamiliar with the film, the two brothers decide they must re-form their rhythm and blues band, The Blues Brothers, and organize a performance to earn $5,000 to pay the tax assessor. Along the way they are targeted by a destructive “mystery woman”, Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band—all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.

Vian notes how they go about saving the orphanage, “but how to do it with validity without departing (too much) from the values conveyed by the sisters and despite some transgressions?” he asks. “Enlightenment comes in the Baptist church Triple Rock,” Vian explains, “where they listen to a sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James on the necessity not to waste their lives.”

He says it’s really the Protestant religion that causes Jake to “see the Light” and “triggers among the faithful a charismatic wave, obviously rock, but which above all will allow the brothers to reform “the band” to collect the dollars necessary to save the orphanage.” Vian recalls how, among other things, Elwood, even waives “an adventure with a charming young lady” to undertake his “mission from God.”

The movie and its music are “memorable”, concludes Vian, and adds: “According to the facts, [it’s] Catholic.” Elsewhere in the paper, a full page article describes the film as a “masterpiece”, “incredibly shrewd” and “full of ideas.”

All quite interesting – but whether this is really something that should court so much attention in L’Osservatore Romano which many see (incorrectly) as the Vatican’s official mouthpiece, is open to question.

Vian is a friendly, hard-working and well-meaning editor who has done much good for the publication, but his enthusiasm to regularly bring pop culture into the ‘Vatican’s newspaper’ may be all right in Italy, but to an increasing number it appears to trivialize the Vatican and, ultimately, the Church.

While movie and music reviews can rightly be a popular feature of many Catholic newspapers, many, myself included, feel L’Osservatore Romano is different and should instead be devoting its pages to more spiritual and lofty matters related to the faith.

What are your views?

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