beamjockey (beamjockey) wrote,

The Secret of Kells: Worth Seeing

As I have already written, we went to some trouble to see The Secret of Kells last week, but we were amply rewarded. It's a visual feast.

It's an animated movie about Brendan, a boy living in a 9th-century Irish abbey, who assists the monks in transcribing and illuminating sacred manuscripts. Outside the walls lies a scary forest, home to wild animals and creatures of folklore; beyond that, the menace of raiding Northmen, bringing death and fire wherever they go.

When Brother Aidan, a legendary master illuminator fleeing the raids, takes refuge at Kells, he brings an incomplete book and invites Brendan to help him finish it. Though Brendan is forbidden to venture beyond the walls, in order to gather materials for inks he enters the forest, discovering both terror and beauty there. He is aided by a mysterious orphan girl, Aisling (to my ear, "Osh-leeg," the final "g" being barely audible), who says "Let me show you my forest..."

Good overview of The Secret of Kells, with plenty of large stills.

Good trailer.

Even better trailer. Gives a good sense of the storyline.

"Related videos" clips in right-hand column of this give you a better idea what the film looks like, at the risk of being a bit spoilery.

Really terrible trailer, whose voiceover makes an outstanding film sound like boring Extruded Fantasy Product. Best avoided, unless you are a student of "how not to write copy for movie trailers."

Eight Reasons Why You Should See The Secret of Kells, from John L. at Creative Juices.

The Blog of Kells, by co-director Tomm Moore,begun in 2005, which, among other things, collects lots of reviews in one handy place. Plus, you can go back in time and watch the multinational production effort unfold. The film was spearheaded by Irish animators, but other studios in France, Hungary, Brazil, and Belgium collaborated. The financing was even more of a patchwork. The blog features lots of model sheets, backgrounds, and other impedimenta of animation.

The film was released in Europe last year, as Brendan and the Secret of Kells. As always with independent films, distribution in the United States is a struggle. It's being shown in art houses, approximately one per city. Not in neighborhood theaters, so far. Confirmed dates for screenings in the U.S. Is it showing where you live? Go see it!

One may hope that a DVD is released in this country, eventually. There is already a DVD for Region 2, so if your player can handle it, you could watch the film at home.

A thoughtful review by Stephen D. Greydanus in Christianity Today heaps praise upon the movie, but offers a mild complaint I had myself: it soft-pedals the Christianity of the Irish monks, never explaining that the Book is a book of the Gospels, and may leave audience members wondering why the tome is so important to the characters.

I don't know much about the Book of Kells, but my friends with an interest in medieval culture have mentioned it frequently. In four volumes, it contains the Gospels in Latin. Roger Ebert writes: "The Irish are a verbal people, preserving legends in story and song; few Chicagoans may know there's a First Folio of Shakespeare in the Newberry Library, but few Dubliners do not know that the Book of Kells reposes in Trinity College." It represents a pinnacle of illuminative artistry, and its Celtic designs keep inspiring later artists, century after century.

The town of Kells wants the Book back, but Trinity College isn't letting go.

Illuminated manuscripts are rare these days, but here is one project to produce a modern handwritten Bible in English: the St. John's Bible.

In one of the most fascinating interviews I've ever seen on C-SPAN, Donald Jackson, chief calligrapher, talks about the Bible project, and demonstrates some of his techniques.

Charles Solomon of L.A. Times comments on the cat portrayed in The Secret of Kells. Most of the other characters are fictional, but Pangur Bán is a historical figure.

English translation of a famous Gaelic poem about Pangur Bán.

Here's the Gaelic version. It's recited over the movie's opening credits.

Solomon writes:
Director Tomm Moore says, "We learned the poem in school, along with the story that a monk had written it in the corner of a page he was illuminating. It was only later that I learned that the last line can be translated as 'turning darkness into light' or 'turning ink into light,' which I thought was a nice reference to creating an illumination."
Even though he and the other artists making the film have spoken of identifying with the scribes in the story, here Mr. Moore misses an additional possible meaning:

"Turning ink into light" is also a nice description of making an animated movie.
Tags: animation, kells, movies, secret of kells
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