The Day of White Smoke: Pope Francis, A Look at “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1972)

Graham Faulkner as Saint Francis of Assisi in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1972)

In 1972, in the height of the hippie movement, Italian director, Franco Zeffireli, made the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon. A precursor to his 1977 star-studded mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth, this 70s classic tells the story of Saint Francis of Assisi. It only seemed fitting that I talk about this film today because of the new papal election of Pope Francis.

Fresh off his success of Romeo and Juliet, Zeffireli’s directing style and lush cinematography soon became his signature after this film. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction, the film takes things that identified the late 60s and early 70s and put them into a film. Ripe with folk songs and a specific acting style, Brother Sun, Sister Moon has always been one of my favorite films. I think the fact that it seems very hippie-dippy and makes me happy is a testament (no pun intended. Get, Biblical humor?) to its staying power. The message of peace and love is not  a new one, but it’s also something that is never going to change. It goes to show how a life that is simple and humble can be a full life. Saint Francis has always been one of my favorite saints. Even if he was not a saint, he is still a person that people should look up to in regards to living their daily lives. He came from wealth, but rejected it to become one of the most recognized names in history. He is also one of only two patron saints of Italy (the other being St. Catherine of Sienna) and the patron saint of animals and the environment. Maybe he’s watching over the places that bear his name because, apparently, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful places ever. So, Saint Francis, in honor of you and the Catholic Church’s new pope: Francis (originally named Jorge Bergoglio, is the first Latin American pope in the Church’s history.), a clip from Brother Sun,  Sister Moon:


The Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

VHS Vault: Brighton Beach Memoirs

Back in the day, the motto of every video store yes, VIDEO store, was “Be Kind. Rewind.” Embracing the current movement to be “retro” I’m going to talk about a little movie called Brighton Beach Memoirs. Adapted from the play by Neil Simon of the same name, Memoirs chronicles the life of Eugene Jerome as he reaches puberty. It’s heart-warming, hilarious, and semi-autobiographical.

“Eugene, a young teenage Jewish boy, recalls memories from his time as an adolescent youth. He lives with his parents, his aunt, two cousins, and his brother, Stanley, whom he looks up to and admires. He goes through the hardships of puberty, sexual fantasy, and living the life of a poor boy in a crowded house.”–via IMDB.

The popular play is still being produced to this day by community theaters and pubescent high school drama departments all over the country. If you don’t believe me, do a YouTube search of the title and watch what comes up. I got it on VHS when my college was selling “old movies.” Jonathan Silverman does justice to the role and his voice-overs as Eugene are seared into my brain’s  association of the role for all time. However, I would have loved to see Matthew Broderick reprise his Tony-winning role on film.  Blythe Danner, the outstanding actress that she is, plays a Russian- Jewish mother more convincingly than anyone given the fact that most associate her with the WASP-y mother type. The fact that Danner didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this role escapes me. Equally as impressive is well-known stage actress Judith Ivey. Other than Designing Women,  growing up, my associations with Ivey and her work included Memoirs. It wasn’t until I got into the business myself and started seeing more New York theater that I truly gained an appreciation for Judith Ivey and her work as an actor and director. She’s slated to direct the revival of The Miss Firecracker Contest and I saw her perform the role of Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie which was amazing. A young Jason Alexander plays a bit part in the film as well, long before his days on Seinfeld. I do wonder what happened to the actor who  plays Stanley. But alas, a “Where Are They Now” post is one for another day.

The movie is humorous, heart-felt and still relevant today. Put it in your Netflix queue and if you can find a video store that doesn’t just sell porn, rent it. Pin-ups and puberty are the main themes of the movie and Eugene’s “wet dream” monologue will forever be considered one of the funniest speeches in theater and film history.