Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 53: Who's House of God?

Some years ago, when in the UK, I sought consultation from a careers guidance counsellor, looking, strangely enough, for a bit of careers guidance. A centerpiece of the technique used to find the square hole in which to fit my square vocational peg, was a questionnaire of over one hundred questions, all of which resulted in choices that must be made, the response of “I don’t know” was unacceptable.

I was doing fine and on the path to the bespoke career of my dreams when I came up against a question that begged the “unacceptable” answer. This was the question: "You walk into a cathedral, are you struck by the divinity of the architecture?" I couldn’t truthfully answer this question with either one or other of the options.

Cathedrals (Abbeys and grand churches) are a regular haunt of mine, not because I belong to any particular denomination or religion. I am indeed inspired by the architecture of these buildings, whether it’s St.Paul’s in London, Sacre Coeur in Montmartre or St. Mary’s here in Sydney. I also find them to be havens of sanctuary and stillness.

Wherever I am in the world, I gravitate to sacred sites; a great deal of my spiritual path is grabbed from the religious, the holy and the secular. I am partial to hymns (especially carols), keen to marvel at stained glass windows and, like John Donne (himself once Dean of St.Paul’s‘s Cathedral) I’m more than content nosing round a corner of an overgrown graveyard.

Does the architecture of a cathedral create the sacred space where divinity dwells? I think so? Could the divinity of such a hallowed space exist (the cathedral) without the construct of the building? I think not.

The question that I could not answer came back to haunt me, in a creative way, many years later. A film idea that languishes somewhere on this laptop is in the form of a synopsis called To Build The House Of God. It’s the story of an architect, a man of great faith, whose company and personal design win the commission to build his city’s new cathedral. Not long after, he loses his wife and children in terrible circumstances and his faith is extinguished. The man’s fall is great and the church questions whether he and his company can follow through with the plan for the cathedral. Keeping his faithlessness to himself, the architect is able to pull himself together enough to rescue the enormous project. But he harbours a secret: he decides that he will build the grandest monument to God, without faith, without a belief and when all is complete, he will tell the Church that this is what he has done; that he has built a house of faith with no faith himself. The house built to worship God was built by man without God’s help. The story climax (which I won't go into here) centres on the idea that the architect has to find a spiritual path that works for him, that he believes in, that he can live by and with.

Something else: From my verandah, I have a wonderful view across to the city of Sydney and in the foreground is Wardell’s nineteenth century St.Mary’s Cathedral. Some fifteen years ago, St.Mary’s set about a grand restoration of the cathedral in preparation for the visit of Pope John Paull II. So grand were the plans, that they decided to carry out major building work on the cathedral. The Church’s plans were narrowed down to two options (1) to complete the unfinished original architectural plan of Wardell’s adding the two spires to the two towers at the Southern end of the cathedral (see my attached picture) or (2) to forego Wardell’s plan and to build a glass spire (see illustration) over the nave (the central tower) in the middle of the Cathedral; the plan being to remove the existing ceiling of the nave so that the sunlight could shine into the cathedral during the day and light be beamed out of the. glass spire, toward the heavens, at night.

The powers that be, the synod, whoever, decided to complete Wardell’s original vision, which as you can hopefully see, is wonderful (St.Mary’s is apparently the best example of Gothic architecture in the southern hemisphere)) but I wonder if they made the right choice?

Day #53 Tip: Write what you want to write not what “they” want you to write
David Ogilvy, the late, great teacher of advertising and founder of the Ogilvy & Mather agency instilled in his employees the notion of “the big idea”. “What’s the “big idea here” is a question I’d hear of creative work, over and over again in my time at O&M.

Robert McKee has a kind of version of that when he says that “...come the revolution, the writers will be first up against the wall(to be shot)”; because, great writers dare to say what others are thinking and not saying, because great writers are brave enough to put forward thoughts and ideas that others may find unacceptable.

Writers have always stirred the pot of revolution, rebellion and revolt. I don’t mean to put us on a pedestal or take the moral high ground, I’m just pointing out what history has shown us, again and again and again. And, I mean all writers: from Bob Dylan to Aristotle, Marx to the gospel- makers, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

In the world of screenwriting, it’s naive for a writer not to be aware and mindful of the vagaries of the commercial world for which we write. I certainly do not want to the writer of a film that nobody goes to see. However, it would be the hugest betrayal of myself, not to write what I actually believe to be true. I may have to write things that I don’t necessarily want to write, but it doesn’t mean to say that I can’t believe in the content.

A great friend of mine once encouraged me, when I was thinking of writing to my local MP, telling me that research had shown that if one person puts it down on paper, probably at least 500 other people are thinking it too. If I’m thinking it, so are many many others.

Never write the film that you think the world/Hollywood/the film industry wants, write the film you want to write.

I circled both answers in that questionnaire - “divinity” and “advertising” - I was true to myself , honest. They recommended that I go into advertising. There’s irony for you.

1 comment:

  1. same test taken quite recently (and not for the first time) - "they" recommend that I become a lawyer. ha ha ha ha ha ha.