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Peter T Chattaway

The Secret of Kells

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Link to the thread on this year's Best Animated Feature nominees, where this film is currently rubbing shoulders with Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog and Up.

Link to the movie's blog.

I mentioned the film at my blog a few months ago, and had heard about it a few months before THAT, but now that it has the Oscar nomination, it looks like the film might get something resembling a nationwide distribution (which is not to say that it will get a "wide" distribution, per se, but at least it might play in the top hundred arthouse theatres or something like that). The IMDb says the film will have a limited release March 12, i.e. the Friday after the Oscars. (I don't think anyone expects it to WIN the Oscar, but presumably they're counting on people catching a glimpse of the film during the ceremony and thinking, "Hey, what's that? Looks interesting...")

Among other appreciations out there, Roger Ebert recently posted this one by a guy in Taiwan, NKCarter just reviewed it at Filmwell, and Doug Cummings just named it one of the ten best of 2009.

- - -

An Indie Takes On Animation’s Big Boys

Even in a year with a lot of unlikely Oscar nominees, Tomm Moore is a reach. Mr. Moore, the director of the animated film “The Secret of Kells,” grew up and still lives in Kilkenny, Ireland, a one-cathedral town of a few thousand people about an hour and a half south of Dublin and 5,160 miles from Hollywood.

But it’s not just geography that makes Mr. Moore a surprise addition to the Oscar race. It’s also the style and story of his independent film, a hand-drawn labor of love made for 6 million euros (about $8 million), the equivalent of what, in headier days, some studios would spend on a film’s Oscar campaign alone. If, artistically, “The Secret of Kells” is a throwback to the era of animation before computer-generated imagery, its promotion is pure digital age, forgoing the pricey ads and flashy parties that Academy Award campaigns are traditionally built on in favor of cheaper social media and savvy targeted marketing. It was a lark, and it worked.

“We scratched our heads and said, ‘What is the best way to get this film a nomination?’ ” said Eric Beckman, the president of GKIDS, the four-person company that bought the rights to distribute “The Secret of Kells” in the United States just days before the Oscar nomination forms were due. “Do we need to take out big ads in Variety to reach the 100 or so people in this committee? It seemed like a viral word-of-mouth campaign would be more successful.” . . .

New York Times, March 2

- - -

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MattPage   

Been meaning to blog about this but haven't had the chance. Empire are loving it as well FWIW.

Matt

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SDG   
Empire are loving it as well FWIW.

Thanks, Matt. Really looking forward to this.

("Empire are." Hee hee hee. I love British English.)

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And they're rolling out the US release dates. I sincerely hope many of you get to see this in theaters; I try to sound real smart-like on Filmwell, but allow me to just gush here: this is an wonderful film, and it is incredibly rare that animation that combines accessibility and sheer design genius like this.

I will especially be interested in how people here react to its (fuzzy) religious leanings. I'm pretty sure it's possible to go into this film thuddingly ignorant and come out just the same, with no more idea what the Book of Kells actually contains. The prayers are in latin, there's chatter about the "Chi Rho" page, and the actual preaching from the book happens in a wordless montage near the end. I feel like that's maybe a disservice to the book itself, to make a movie about preserving important stories while avoiding the substance of those stories entirely. But if you do know what the book contains, then there's a whole new level of visual and thematic resonance at work here, which I found to be quite moving.

Of course, then there's the matter-of-fact paganism, which is a whole other kettle of fascinating fish. You're all good Lewisians, right? smile.gif

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SDG   
And they're rolling out the US release dates. I sincerely hope many of you get to see this in theaters; I try to sound real smart-like on Filmwell, but allow me to just gush here: this is an wonderful film, and it is incredibly rare that animation that combines accessibility and sheer design genius like this.

It has a delightful quality of naivete and simplicity that seems to me very much in keeping with the spirit of early Irish monasticism as I understand it. And yes, the design is brilliant.

I will especially be interested in how people here react to its (fuzzy) religious leanings. I'm pretty sure it's possible to go into this film thuddingly ignorant and come out just the same, with no more idea what the Book of Kells actually contains. The prayers are in latin, there's chatter about the "Chi Rho" page, and the actual preaching from the book happens in a wordless montage near the end. I feel like that's maybe a disservice to the book itself, to make a movie about preserving important stories while avoiding the substance of those stories entirely. But if you do know what the book contains, then there's a whole new level of visual and thematic resonance at work here, which I found to be quite moving.

Of course, then there's the matter-of-fact paganism, which is a whole other kettle of fascinating fish. You're all good Lewisians, right?

I am; but I think Lewis himself would have had issues here, as I do -- not so much with the depiction of paganism itself, as with the contrast between the depiction of paganism versus the depiction of Christianity.

As I see it, the film depicts a world in which paganism is living, magical and powerful, while Christianity is mundane and at best charming in its aesthetics. The pagan world has real power to kill or to save; similar power is initially ascribed to the Book of Iona, which is supposed to be able to blind sinners as well as open a window to heaven, but when it's actually put to the test it has no such effect.

Perhaps we should say Christianities rather than Christianity. For the relentlessly dour, authoritarian Abbot Cellach, the strength of Christianity is like the strength of a wall to keep evil out and adherents safe within. Brother Aidan has a very different vision, more aesthetic and joyful, but his idea about evil is that it's so powerful that when it comes you can only run away and hope that you're fast enough. Neither version of Christianity, alas, offers sufficient defense against evil, and in the end it's better to

be friends with fairies and wolves than to dedicate your life to the books or walls of monks.

What I find most regrettable about the contrasting visions of pagan and Christian sensibilities is the way that the Irish design aesthetic that they share in common is depicted as

living and powerful in a pagan context, but dead text on a page in a Christian context. In the forest, Celtic knots and scrollwork live; in the cave of the Crom Cruach they can kill you, but you can also defend yourself in the same way -- but only there. As Christian "illumination," though, they become something that infidels can contemptuously rip asunder and scatter to the winds with no danger of blinding -- though even then paganism can still save you.

I don't mind that Christianity and pagan superstition stand side by side, and even somewhat arm in arm. It's not an unfaithful picture of the Irish reality, not only of that period but more or less into modern times. I do wish that the picture were allowed to be somewhat more even-handed. In the world of Irish imagination, either fairies or angels might be just around the corner. Why not here?

N.K., any thoughts?

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Sadly, I don't disagree as much as I wish I could. There is a clear power that the faerie world displays that Christian monasticism doesn't match, undoubtedly. The miracles of the early saints are as traditional to this period as the mythology, and I don't think a little of that would be amiss here (The imagined scenes of the first saint to illumine the book are entertaining, but don't really solve the problem).

Still, There's something to be said for the narrative significance the film gives the book.

Everyone and everything important to the story, including a fairy and the subjugated body of a defeated dark god, serves these gospels. The fairies may save Brendan, but the theme of the movie seems to be that the book saves Ireland.

Maybe the Christian text has a different sort of power, bringing with it as it does hope, illumination and reconciliation. Isn't the joke about blinding sinners the idea that the book ought to do exactly the opposite? Like I said, the movie is awfully vague on the hows and the whys there, but I don't think it ever backs down from that power. I realize it seems weak compared to

magic wolves that can devour the Northmen.

But I think that's partially mitigated by the fact that nobody seems to think the fairies are a long-term solution.

P.S. I wouldn't say the design aesthetic is always shown as being dead on the page in a Christian context. The last fifteen seconds or so of the film are pretty remarkable, abstract though they may be.

And just because the world is better with more Kate Beaton, an entirely different vision of the Northmen, as they storm another monastery.

Edited by N.K. Carter

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SDG   
Sadly, I don't disagree as much as I wish I could.

That's exactly how I feel. I don't want to pick apart the film, it's got such charm and I want to love it unreservedly. But I can't.

There is a clear power that the faerie world displays that Christian monasticism doesn't match, undoubtedly. The miracles of the early saints are as traditional to this period as the mythology, and I don't think a little of that would be amiss here (The imagined scenes of the first saint to illumine the book are entertaining, but don't really solve the problem).

Exactly, well said. Saint Columcille (Saint Columba) in the stories is a colorful figure, but the reality might turn out to be as exaggerated as Brother Aidan and the Book of Iona.

Still, There's something to be said for the narrative significance the film gives the book.

I don't disagree with this, or the spoilered comments that follow. I just wish the movie had anything to offer, however vague or ill-defined, on why the book is supposed to matter so much.

P.S. I wouldn't say the design aesthetic is always shown as being dead on the page in a Christian context. The last fifteen seconds or so of the film are pretty remarkable, abstract though they may be.

Yeah, I guess. There are a couple of notable scenes that I'd like to read as Christianity "circumscribing" the power of paganism, or staking ground where paganism cannot go, as it were. (One of these scenes is more plausibly redemptive, as it were, though there's no indication there that the wild Irish sensibility is baptized or redeemed by being tamed or hedged in. The other scene, though eerily evocative, is less redemptive in that it is actually paganism that liberates by reaching past the Christian defenses that prevent direct action. Am I making any sense?

If only Abbott Cellach weren't such a one-dimensional grouch. If only Brother Aidan were more of a match for him. After the build-up the guy got, it was a bit of a letdown when Brother Aidan turned out to be so passive vis-a-vis Abbott Cellach.

Edited by SDG

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Persona   

It's closing out the Gene Siskel European Union Film Festival. I'm all, "meh". I'm having the time of my life, I'll probably end up seeing and blogging between 10-12 films. But, eh, I just don't know why all these people keep making cartoons. I mean, really: is there a faster way to sleepsville?

Edited by Persona

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There are a couple of notable scenes that I'd like to read as Christianity "circumscribing" the power of paganism, or staking ground where paganism cannot go, as it were. (One of these scenes is more plausibly redemptive, as it were, though there's no indication there that the wild Irish sensibility is baptized or redeemed by being tamed or hedged in. The other scene, though eerily evocative, is less redemptive in that it is actually paganism that liberates by reaching past the Christian defenses that prevent direct action. Am I making any sense?

I can grasp what you're saying in theory, but I have no idea which scenes you're talking about.

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SDG   
There are a couple of notable scenes that I'd like to read as Christianity "circumscribing" the power of paganism, or staking ground where paganism cannot go, as it were. (One of these scenes is more plausibly redemptive, as it were, though there's no indication there that the wild Irish sensibility is baptized or redeemed by being tamed or hedged in. The other scene, though eerily evocative, is less redemptive in that it is actually paganism that liberates by reaching past the Christian defenses that prevent direct action. Am I making any sense?

I can grasp what you're saying in theory, but I have no idea which scenes you're talking about.

Sorry, thought they would jump out at you! I mean, respectively,

[a.] the scene in the cave of Crom Cruach, where Brendan literally circumscribes the power of the dark pagan god, hedging him and reducing him to the familiar motif of a serpent eating its own tail*, and [b.] the scene in which the fairy Aisling cannot venture inside the monastery and instead sends an enchanted Pangur Ban to do her bidding.

*Actually, this image has a pre-Christian history, but it was adopted by Christianity, with suitably Christian interpretation(s). Since Brendan belongs to the Christian world and is doing battle with a pagan god, it seems somewhat plausible to see the final image in the light of the triumph of Christianity over paganism.

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BethR   

P.S. I love that the cat is named Pangur Ban.

Me, too. I've been having a bit of a discussion with a friend on another list who says she heard on some PBS program that the original "Pangur Ban" was probably really a pine marten, rather than a cat, because there were no cats in Ireland in the (8th or 9th) century. Piffle, say I, mainly because the poem appears to have been written by an Irish monk living/working in Austria, and Europe had plenty of cats. And secondly, because pine martens make lousy pets and are not white.

It's closing out the Gene Siskel European Union Film Festival. I'm all, "meh". I'm having the time of my life, I'll probably end up seeing and blogging between 10-12 films. But, eh, I just don't know why all these people keep making cartoons. I mean, really: is there a faster way to sleepsville?

Hm. Well, just remember how you felt about The Miracle Maker, until you actually watched it...

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Oh, yes, those scenes. I hadn't really thought about the second one in those terms. I actually find the Crom Cruach sequence, though, interesting on a lot of levels,

especially since there seems to be a motif of temptation and subsequent ensnaring at first, and yes, I like to think Brendan's triumph is metaphorically a triumph of Christendom. Mostly because it makes me happy to think that.

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SDG   
Oh, yes, those scenes. I hadn't really thought about the second one in those terms.

It's less obvious, I grant. But the song, especially that opening line, is so evocative, so seemingly fraught with unstated significance -- in an animated film that is not after all a musical -- that I found myself thinking about where Aisling could not go and why. OTOH, as noted above, her influence reaches even where she cannot go -- and does so to liberate, not to compromise or corrupt.

I actually find the Crom Cruach sequence, though, interesting on a lot of levels,

especially since there seems to be a motif of temptation and subsequent ensnaring at first, and yes, I like to think Brendan's triumph is metaphorically a triumph of Christendom. Mostly because it makes me happy to think that.

Ditto ... though I think there's enough narrative support that I don't think I would say it's mostly because it makes me happy. :)

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So when is this coming out on Region 1 DVD? It's probably the only way I'll ever see it at this point. And I want to see it badly.

It's actually getting a pretty broad limited release over the next few months. I know that it'll be in Dallas in April at least, and I remember seeing a pretty good list of other cities somewhere.

ahh, here it is: http://theblogofkells.blogspot.com/2010/03/confirmed-dates-for-us-screeningsmore.html

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SDG   

FWIW, my review.

I love that Brother Aidan’s cat in The Secret of Kells is called Pangur Bán. The unknown eighth or ninth-century Irish monk who, in a playful respite from his normal work, penned in the margins of a Latin New Testament manuscript an affectionate ode in his native tongue to the mouse-catching prowess of his white cat would surely be astounded to find Pangur Bán again commemorated in pen and ink over a millenium later, romping across backgrounds that look at times like the decorative work of the monks themselves brought to life.

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Persona   

Hm. Well, just remember how you felt about The Miracle Maker, until you actually watched it...

Based on the wonderful dialogue here and on the trailer, and on Beth's challenge, too, I'm going to see this tomorrow night. And I'm actually looking forward to it.

It will function as the Chicago EUFF wrap for me, even though the fest is done and it's now on regular run at the Siskel. The fest itself was a great deal of fun. I love that they work it mainly on nights for over a month, as opposed to most regular film festivals in which you've got to cram everything into 2-1/2 weeks. I've seen 12 films and written on 10, and for the most part I've even enjoyed the writing experience. (I admire you guys that write all the time. You are an amazing group of friends.)

Nevermind. My schedule changed. I'm actually upset about missing a cartoon. First time.

Edited by Persona

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If only Abbott Cellach weren't such a one-dimensional grouch. If only Brother Aidan were more of a match for him. After the build-up the guy got, it was a bit of a letdown when Brother Aidan turned out to be so passive vis-a-vis Abbott Cellach.

But the Abbott does at least repent. It's not so much that he's a grouch, he just has a misplaced priority: It is by the strenth of our walls that they will appreciate the strength of our faith. (It sounds so post-9/11.) He's not a bad guy. He has the welfare of his people at heart. He has just missed the point that faith and strength may not always go together. (But then I haven't gotten to your review yet. You've probably covered all that very well.)

I like that Brother Aiden is as passive as he is. Although I'm not sure passive is quite right. His action is more like civil disobedience. He turns out to have been mightier than Cellach in that he is the one who through his mentoring of Brendon takes the book (which is of course the Gospels) beyond the walls of the Abbey.

Edited by Darrel Manson

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SDG   
If only Abbott Cellach weren't such a one-dimensional grouch. If only Brother Aidan were more of a match for him. After the build-up the guy got, it was a bit of a letdown when Brother Aidan turned out to be so passive vis-a-vis Abbott Cellach.

But the Abbott does at least repent. It's not so much that he's a grouch, he just has a misplaced priority: It is by the strenth of our walls that they will appreciate the strength of our faith. (It sounds so post-9/11.) He's not a bad guy. He has the welfare of his people at heart. He has just missed the point that faith and strength may not always go together. (But then I haven't gotten to your review yet. You've probably covered all that very well.)

I like that Brother Aiden is as passive as he is. Although I'm not sure passive is quite right. His action is more like civil disobedience. He turns out to have been mightier than Cellach in that he is the one who through his mentoring of Brendon takes the book (which is of course the Gospels) beyond the walls of the Abbey.

Yes, the Abbot repents, and that's worth something. Coming as late as it does, though, and with so little impact on the story, it's not a whole lot more (it is something more) than a final debunking of his insular (!) fortress-mentality Christianity and authoritarianism. Unfortunately, there's not enough pushing back in terms of a more constructive Christian approach to spirituality (or authority).

The Abbot has a misplaced priority, but he's also a grouch. He could have been more sympathetic / nuanced in his misplaced priorities. He isn't.

FWIW, did you see my "Junior Knows Best" comparison / contrast of The Secret of Kells and How to Train Your Dragon?

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opus   

This is coming to Lincoln in mid-May... I can't wait.

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insular (!)

:D

I've no real background in Celtic Christianity which I'm sure would be an aid in fully appreciating the film. But as I said above, I have a certain appreciation of the Abbot. He cares about the people. He cares about Brendan, who is pegged to be Abbot himself. He cares about his culture. The sad part is he has quit caring about the Gospel. That is the deadly risk as things institutionalize. And it is an ever present risk for the church in all its manifestations.

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So, for kids? Nothing offensive. But what about thematically. There was a dad with four kids when we saw it, but I'm not sure they would really appreciate what the film was about.

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To give myself two hours of break from work, I chose this over Iron Man 2 for a big screen movie, and I'm ever so glad I did. Enthralling. I wouldn't have complained if it had beat Up for the Oscar; it's so unique, so beautiful at any given moment. There isn't a wasted moment in this movie.

I'm glad to come here and find so much enthusiasm. I too felt that the "pagan magic" seemed somewhat redeemed by the way it refrained from conflicting with the Christians and their book. I felt the book, in its very aesthetic structure, embraced and reconciled the mysteries of nature and the spirit world with itself. And while I agree with those who would liked to have seen some acknowledgment of the text of the book, knowing what it contains I was warm with a sort of Lewis-like glow as the film played out. The book reclaims the beauty of the natural world as harmonious with the Gospel, and where figures of pagan mythology appear on those pages, they are either coexisting with the superior focus of the book, or they are portrayed as defeated (the snake eating its tail).

I was reminded, at several points, of the marvelous El-ehrairah sequence at the beginning of Watership Down. Pangur Ban's transformation greatly resembles the Black Rabbit of Inle.

inle.jpg

Edited by Overstreet

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