Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reeves Library Undergraduate Research Award winners announced

Congratulations to both of our 2015 winners!

Toni Antonucci was selected as the award-winner for the Junior & Senior division. Her paper, "Effect of BPD Parents on Children: Do Attachment Styles Differ?" impressed the evaluation committee by exhibiting "the top levels of Bloom's Taxonomy in terms of what is created with the research and how it is evaluated." Another panelist wrote, "This well-written research submission begs continuation. I cannot wait to read the study." Ms. Antonucci's entry was sponsored by Dr. Jeff Bartel.

Jordan Penney received the award at the First-Year/Sophomore level for  "Miss-Representation: Exploring the Effects of Media on Body Image in American Girls." Her paper was praised by the evaluation panel for its "mix of source types, with appropriate incorporation of popular sources." Ms. Penney's entry was sponsored by Dr. Brittany Edge.

Thank you to all of the students who entered and to the faculty who sponsored them! We received a number of excellent projects, which made the judging quite a challenge. We hope that those of you who will be at SHU next year will consider entering!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Watch This: The Baron of Arizona

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

The Baron of Arizona (1950)
Written and directed by Samuel Fuller

They say that the truth is stranger than fiction, and while there are obviously many, many great films that tell fictitious stories, it is undeniable that the words "Based on a true story" or "Based on actual events" have graced the opening credits of countless cinematic classics.  Some of the most acclaimed and popular films of recent years, from Argo (2012) and 12 Years a Slave (2013) to Captain Phillips (2013) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), brought fact-based stories to the big screen, and in the case of Argo and The Wolf of Wall Street, had audiences in disbelief that such extraordinary or outlandish events could have taken place in real life.  One of the most remarkable true stories ever told by the movies is the little-known story of 19th-century con artist James Addison Reavis, which is depicted in the equally little-known 1950 film The Baron of Arizona, the sophomore directorial effort of revered American B-movie director Samuel Fuller.

The film stars Vincent Price as Reavis, a clerk in the Santa Fe land office who grew tired of seeing "ignorant" people inherit land in accordance with the U.S. government's policy of recognizing Spanish titles to land grants, and decided to stage an elaborate, fraudulent scheme that, if successful, would have allowed him to claim ownership of most of the Territory of Arizona.  Reavis's story is told in flashback by his former adversary, an Interior Department agent named John Griff (Reed Hadley), who recounts the tale of the scheme to a small group of big-wigs in 1912, just after Arizona has been admitted as the forty-eighth state in the Union.  We are told that Reavis spent years preparing for his scheme by learning languages, studying the art of forgery, and adopting the manners of a cultured person.

As the tale begins, we see Reavis visit the home of an aging Hispanic peasant named Pepito Alvarez (Vladimir Sokoloff), who has been raising an orphaned girl named Sofia since the age of one.  Reavis claims Sofia is the only living descendant of an eighteenth-century Spanish baron named Miguel de Peralta (a fictitious figure created by Reavis), and he produces a forged document which states that Peralta was granted a massive piece of land in America by King Ferdinand VI of Spain, land which Sofia would therefore own as his sole heir.  Reavis then proceeds to put the remainder of his plan in motion.  He brings Pepito and Sofia to live with him in Santa Fe, where he hires a governess to mold her into a baroness.  We see him traveling throughout America and Spain, carving inscriptions into rocks, falsifying birth records for Sofia, and altering historical documents.

After several years, he returns home and marries the now-grown Sofia (Ellen Drew), thus becoming the baron to her baroness.  He then presents the forged documents and his petition to the government, and claims ownership of the "Peralta Grant," which encompasses nearly the entire Territory of Arizona.  It is at this point that John Griff, an expert on forgery, enters the story and begins to investigate Reavis's claim, which he is convinced is false.  Meanwhile, Reavis begins collecting thousands of dollars worth of revenues, rents, and royalties, even before the government has officially recognized his claim, making him a target of hatred and violence.  The tension mounts as the animosity of the local population grows and Griff pursues the truth behind Reavis's claims.

Reavis should not be a likable protagonist.  He is cold and calculating, a shrewd swindler who thinks nothing of feigning love or any other emotion in order to make his scheme a success.  However, Vincent Price is so charismatic and engaging, and his character's plans so audacious, it is difficult not to root for him.  Price would go on to become a horror icon after his later work for producer-directors William Castle and Roger Corman, and it is easy to forget about his earlier career outside of the horror genre.  His performance as Reavis in The Baron of Arizona ranks as one of his best, and serves as a reminder of his extensive talent.

Writer-director Samuel Fuller had a background as a crime reporter, and knew a good story when he saw it.  The true tale of an ambitious con artist was no doubt attractive to him.  The Baron of Arizona was only Fuller's second film, and while parts of it don't work as well (the frame story for the flashback is clunky and too full of expository dialogue), there are many glimpses of the edgy subject matter, humor, and pulpy genre flourishes that would mark his later masterpieces like The Steel Helmet (1951), Pickup on South Street (1953), Shock Corridor (1963), The Naked Kiss (1964), and The Big Red One (1980).

With Price's standout performance, solid black-and-white cinematography from the great James Wong Howe, and a fascinating storyline, The Baron of Arizona makes for an entertaining glimpse at one of American history's most ambitious crimes.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Watch This: The Gospel According to St. Matthew

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

There have been numerous cinematic depictions of the life of Jesus Christ, dating all the way back to the very beginnings of feature-length filmmaking.  The silent French film The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, Our Savior (1905) was one of the earliest dramatizations of the life of Christ, using a series of elaborately-staged tableaux to tell the story of His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Later Biblical epics from Hollywood such as King of Kings (1961) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) related the story of Jesus Christ on a grand scale, while Mel Gibson's controversial The Passion of the Christ (2004), being a cinematic passion play as the title suggests, focused only on the last twelve hours of His life.  However, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) is a singularity among these works, and remains the most dynamic, and arguably the most inspiring, of the bunch.  It may be surprising, then, to learn that the film was conceived and directed by an atheist.

Like King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and the acclaimed 1977 television mini-series Jesus of NazarethThe Gospel According to St. Matthew is a life-of-Jesus film, beginning with Mary revealing her pregnancy to Joseph and ending with Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection.  The Gospel According to St. Matthew avoids the grandiose glorification and overly sentimental flourishes that characterize most other Biblical films, yet it maintains a sincere reverence for its subject.

The director, the great Italian poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, chose to follow the tenets of Italian neo-realism, shooting on location in rural Italy and using a cast of non-professionals to portray his characters, including his own mother as the aged Mary.  Most scenes in the film are shot in a documentary-like fashion, lending it a sense of matter-of-factness and authenticity.  This is especially effective in scenes of violence such as the Roman slaughter of the first-born and Jesus's crucifixion, where the acts of violence, though briefer and far less graphic than the detailed, visceral brutality of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, are nonetheless lent a greater power due to the realist aesthetic and more objective camerawork.  Even Christ's miracles, such as walking on water, are depicted in a very straightforward fashion, without sensationalism or spectacle.

What really sets The Gospel According to St. Matthew apart is its rigorous devotion to the text of the Book of Matthew as the source of the film's words and images.  All dialogue is taken directly from the Bible (Pasolini shot the film without a script, filming the scenes based solely on the Gospel text).  This is especially important considering that much of the film consists simply of Jesus Christ speaking and debating.  The film differentiates itself by placing the focus directly on Christ's teachings, rather than just depicting the events in His life.

As mentioned above, the film's director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was an atheist.  The story goes that he read the Gospels straight through while sitting in a hotel room in Assisi, Italy, and was consumed by a desire to make a film about the life of Christ.  His non-belief is no doubt what led to such an exceptional religious film, allowing him to focus on the source material while maintaining a more dispassionate relationship to it.

Pasolini was also a Marxist, and it is not surprising that one can find a mirror for his political views in Jesus's concern for the poor and the film's depictions of oppressive Roman rule.  Jesus can clearly be seen as a radical or revolutionary, a view supported by the work of numerous historians and theologians.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew is a unique viewing experience, a fascinating and thought-provoking work of interest to both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April DVD Spotlight: Biographical Films

The biographical film, or biopic, is one of the film industry's most tried-and-true genres.  From historical figures and star athletes to artists and entertainers, cinematic depictions of the lives of real people have continued to move and inspire us for over a century.  With classics like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Queen Christina (1933), and more recent efforts like The Aviator (2004) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), we've got something for everyone.  If documentaries are more to your taste, check out Crumb (1994), director Terry Zwigoff's superb portrait of underground artist Robert Crumb.  Interested in the story of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the Sisters of Charity?  Check out the dramatic retelling of her life story, A Time for Miracles (1980).

Other featured titles include:

Ali (2001)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Elizabeth (1998)
Frida (2002)
Malcolm X (1992)
October Sky (1999)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Sea Inside (2004)

Check one out today!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Easter Break Hours

Easter Break Library Hours

Wednesday, April 1                   8:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Thursday, April 2                      8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Good Friday-Easter Sunday      CLOSED
Monday, April 6                        8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Watch This: A Fish Called Wanda

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Directed by Charles Crichton

The crime comedy can be a tricky genre to pull off.  For every Fargo (1996), Ocean's Eleven (2001), or The Ladykillers (1955), there's a Gigli (2003), Tower Heist (2011), or The Ladykillers (2004).  One of the best, and certainly one of the funniest, entries in this genre is British director Charles Crichton's farcical tale of double-crossing jewel thieves, A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

The film, penned by co-star and Monty Python alum John Cleese, follows a small group of criminals caught up in a web of unending betrayal following a London diamond heist, as they each attempt to swindle their accomplices and keep the loot for themselves.  English gangster George (Tom Georgeson) and his stuttering, animal-loving right-hand man Ken (Michael Palin, another former Monty Python member) have planned the robbery, and are joined by Americans Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline) in executing the plan.  Wanda and Otto are lovers, but pose as brother and sister so that Wanda can charm and manipulate George and Ken.  After the robbery, Wanda and Otto rat George out to the police, but realize afterward that he has stashed the diamonds in a secret location.  Wanda then plots to seduce George's lawyer, Archie Leach (Cleese), hoping to learn the whereabouts of the diamonds.  Archie, stuck in an unhappy marriage, falls prey immediately to Wanda's flattery and vivacity, but their attempts to consummate their relationship are repeatedly undermined by Otto's jealousy and unfortunate timing (in what is perhaps the film's funniest scene, Archie is caught in the buff during a tryst with Wanda at a friend's flat when new tenants arrive unexpectedly).

Meanwhile, George has assigned Ken the task of knocking off an elderly woman who was the only eyewitness to the robbery, but he accidentally kills her three Yorkshire terriers in the process, much to his chagrin.  Further plotting on the part of Wanda and Otto, as well as a misstep during George's trial, lead to career and marital ruin for Archie, who then decides to steal the loot himself.  What ensues is a hilarious series of reversals and double-crosses, including Otto's unorthodox but effective torture of Ken, and a climactic showdown at Heathrow Airport.

A Fish Called Wanda stands apart from most other crime comedies for a variety of reasons.  For starters, with its madcap duplicities and unexpected twists, the film features tighter plotting than most standard crime films.  Secondly, its criminal protagonists are by no means bumbling or inept, as is often the case; the diamond heist itself goes off without a hitch.  Wanda also manages a different comedic tone than most of its genre counterparts.  The film's betrayal-heavy plot, profanity, and mean-spirited humor differentiate it from the breeziness of Ocean's Eleven, but its broader, slapstickey qualities make it feel much lighter than darker comedies like Fargo.

The film's strongest asset is its game cast, all of whom turn in excellent comedic performances.  Cleese wisely plays Archie with more subtlety than he is sometimes known for, making his character's transition from brow-beaten repression to risk-taking exuberance all the more believable.  Palin is hilarious as the hapless Ken, whose accidental offing of the witness's terriers provides some of the film's most riotously funny moments.  Curtis is a revelation in what was really only her second comedic film role (after 1983's Trading Places), bringing an irresistible vibrance to the role of the femme fatale, Wanda.

The film's real standout, however, is Kevin Kline, whose performance as the violent, jealous, insulting, and obliviously dim-witted Otto mines every facet of the character to its fullest potential.  Otto thinks of himself as an intellectual (he reads and mis-quotes Nietzsche) and hates to be called stupid, even though he clearly is.  He likes to speak Italian while being amorous with Wanda, but most of the words he knows are foods like "parmigiana" and "mozzarella," so his romantic chatter sounds like a jumbled Olive Garden menu.  He is also vehemently Anglophobic, showing his disdain for all things English with constant use of the term "Limey" to denigrate everything from Englishmen to wet cement.  He also takes great joy in tormenting Ken for both his stutter and his love of animals.  Otto is an utterly unlikeable person, but Kline brings great charisma to the role and balances all of Otto's quirks perfectly, and the result is a character who is repellent but undeniably watchable.  The Academy Awards are notorious for their slighting of performances in comedic roles, so it is a testament to Kline's work that he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in A Fish Called Wanda.

Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Jerome, Libraries, and Lions

Things were a bit slower than usual last week, as the campus emptied for spring break. I had a few spare minutes to investigate an "I wonder" that had crossed my mind-- the story of the patron saint of librarians. Or patron saints, rather; we have a few. But the most popular one here in the U.S. is St. Jerome, who turns out to have quite the interesting tale.

"Ghirlandaio, Domenico: Saint Jerome in His Study". Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
St. Jerome was well-read and well-educated, with a solid grounding in the liberal arts. He spoke a lot of languages and liked the secular classics so much that he eventually felt convicted about it and decided that he had to focus on Christian materials, instead. Jerome did a lot of translation work, notably the translation of the Christian Scriptures from their original languages into the Latin Vulgate.

Jerome was not a very affable monk. He had a low tolerance for wickedness and errors, and he wasn't shy about pointing them out in his writing. This tendency did not win him many friends. At one point he headed out to the desert for a few years (he took his books with him). He also spent some time as Pope Damascus' secretary. Later, he founded a monastery near Bethlehem.

My favorite story about St. Jerome is of dubious authenticity, but I like it, so I'm going to tell it, anyway. According to the legend, St. Jerome was translating in his library one day when a lion limped into the workroom. The other monks reacted much as most of us would-- they tore out of the room as quickly as possible. Jerome was unfazed. As the lion approached him, he noticed a thorn in its paw. Jerome pulled out the thorn, winning him the undying loyalty of the lion, which protected him and his monastery thereafter. One story even claimed that the reason so many libraries have lion statues out front is that they are in memory of St. Jerome's lion.

I don't know if St. Jerome and his lion really have anything to do with Patience and Fortitude sitting outside of the NYPL, but I like the idea. I've told Dr. Stanley that Reeves really needs to get a lion or two.

In the meantime, my desk could benefit from this in case anyone is looking for a birthday present for me come August:

Sources and further reading:

Saint Jerome in Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 

Saint of the Day, St. Jerome from American Catholic http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1154

St. Jerome at Catholic Online