The Meaning of Transcendence

In February of 2015, the Park Ridge Public Library will showcase an exhibit (on the second floor) about our spring film program. By then, the lineup of our films will be finalized and we’ll have a clearer vision of what Cinema of Transcendence is about. By transcendence, I mean something that goes beyond, something currently out of our reach– but attainable.

There were two other paths this series could’ve gone:

1) The Philosophical. In my first draft of the program, I included films like The Razor’s Edge (1946) with Tyrone Power looking for the meaning of life. I’ve seen this film many years ago and it made a tremendous impression on me. There are so many people in our world looking for something more out of life. That’s what this film is about. The Razor’s Edge would certainly be an ideal choice. However, it’s 146 minutes, and for the Library shows (which should end at 9 PM) I have to factor in the running times.

2) The Metaphysical. A transcendence of mankind or, a rebirth of the human race. This rather elusive concept could become almost esoteric with films as diverse as 2001: A Space Odyssey (which we  would only screen at the Pickwick Theatre). That’s looking at the concept in cosmic terms, but on a smaller scale, there are films that don’t really fall into philosophy, science or religion. Death Takes a Holiday (1934) and the mystical Peter Ibbetson (1935) would be essentials.

But it will be a third path we take instead– and it is this one that will have the most meaning. As the host, I present these programs because they resonate with me and I feel compelled to do them when the time seems right. I rarely deal with genres, so those expecting Westerns or screwball comedies this time may be disappointed. However, I feel there is more value in this program than in anything else I could’ve done. This may actually prove to be the most rewarding program we’ve presented because the quality of the films themselves will distinguish the series.

3) The Spiritual. Our theme deals with the role of spirituality in classic cinema. This will stretch from the silent era to the Biblical epics of the 1950s. Ben-Hur (1959), which will be screened in April as part of the Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series, will also tie into our spring theme at the Library. What I find unique about Cinema of Transcendence— the “God Series,” as some will call it– is that the spiritual influence is all around and permeates, yet it’s not strictly a Bible story series. Instead of showing the magnificent King of Kings (1927) or The Ten Commandments (1956)– films that deal directly with God– I will take a more indirect approach. You will still feel that influence, but it will reveal itself in surprising ways in all sorts of genres. For instance, the one film in the series that does not overtly deal with religion per se, Lost Horizon (1937), is actually one of the most soulful films to come out of Hollywood. It alone justifies the title of our program, which harkens back to the philosophical underpinnings of the series.

An interesting subgenre of this religious theme would be “Angels and Demons,” and this is certainly a subject that could be developed further at a later time in its own program. Movies like The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Angel on My Shoulder (1946), et cetera, all fall into this offshoot of religious films.

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Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt in 1937’s Lost Horizon.
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Why Cinema of Transcendence?

There is so much ugliness around us. It is a world of violence, cruelty, sickness and stupidity, and aggression. A world of political extremism at home and religious fanaticism abroad. Our own society is mired down in the petty things while other broken fragments redefine traditions and institutions. Technology, meanwhile, seems to rob others of something far more than just their time.

Some movies are merely escapism from all this– and nothing more. That’s fine, but this is a series about human endeavor and the Divine spark. It is about hope, beauty and faith– faith in humanity and faith in something beyond. Our series may carry a message, but it certainly has a viewpoint.

Through history, allegory and legend, this will be a series offering positive impressions that help us build our own “Shangri-La”– starting from within.

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