Tuesday, June 09, 2009

No stained glass, not really.

Help! I'm getting distracted in this essay I'm supposed to be writing on medievalist stained glass, and have got lost in the world of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1944 A Canterbury Tale. Some readers will remember Carolyn Dinshaw's wonderful paper on this film at NCS in Swansea last year. I've been watching it less for the oddly repellant/attractive queer Colpeper, and more for what it says about the relation between the movies and cathedrals. Witness the English soldier who dreams of playing the organ in a cathedral but plays only for the movies. There is a grand scene of a stained glass window in the film's magnificent closing sequence, but apparently this was filmed in a studio, as the windows of the cathedral were boarded up during the war; and many buildings in Canterbury destroyed. Indeed, the film makes much of a poignant scene in which Alison walks along a street with great cavities where the shops used to be, and a passer-by comments that at least you get a better view of the cathedral now. The need for light coming into the nave must have been greater than the need for historical accuracy, so the windows aren't shown boarded up.

In September 2007, this was the first film to be shown in Canterbury Cathedral, as part of a fund-raising effort to restore roof, walls and .... the stained-glass windows.



If A Canterbury Tale shows a beautiful, ahistorical fake, it also made me think of the final scene in Mrs Miniver, held in the small parish church, whose roof and main stained glass window have been bombed, in an attack that has also killed several characters. The priest preaches of the war of spirit they are all fighting now, against a view through the gothic arches of the English countryside they are defending. Warning: tissue alert.



Hmm. I wonder if the Vicar of Dibley was quoting this in the episode where Geraldine raises money for a new stained-glass window, but donates it to the Columbian earthquake victims and instead puts in a plain glass window that similarly looks out onto a beautiful setting sun?



I feel I'm in danger of losing my focus, but this is all very interesting material. Now I just have to make an argument about it.

2 comments:

Jonathan Hsy said...

Another great posting, even if it strays a bit from the original "medievalist stained glass" approach. I think the "absent window" idea could actually be productive/revealing, and I love the idea of a Vicar of Dibley/Vicar of Wilcoxon connection here...although if "Dibley" is evoking the Wilcoxon speech, the "window" signifies in a new way. Wlcoxon espouses a militant call to action (Psalm 91's martial metaphors; "Onward Christian Soldiers") - but "Dibley" (in this episode and others) evokes an idyllic pastoral vision of village life (Psalm 23 "The Lord Is My Shepherd" runs in each episode's opening/closing credits). I think both representations evoke nostalgia but mobilize it to different ends.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yes, good distinction, Jonathan. Both Canterbury Tale and Mrs Miniver use that hymn, while Vicar of Dibley is not set in time of war (and would hardly be likely to glorify Thatcher's war in the Falklands, a decade previously, anyway). Its calls to action are much more likely to be fund-raising efforts in response to global crises of famine or floods.