The Movie, The Maggie

This is a great, small movie which until now had passed me by despite my affection for British Ealing Studios’ 1950’s black and white comedies.


The plot involves the captain of a small, steam transport ship outsmarting a wealthy American businessman. The ship is of a class that was rapidly going out of use at that time, called “Puffers” by an affectionate public. As you may have gathered by now, I love both the David versus Goliath and tradition versus progress themes in literature and movies, but only if, unlike real life, David and tradition win. In general, these black and white comedies seem to share that vision.

The puffer’s captain has finagled a contract to carry the businessman’s goods for £300, the amount he needs to keep the puffer afloat. The businessman, discovering this, is appalled and is desperately trying to get the goods off of the puffer and on to a reliable ship. Continue reading


On Three Essays and a Bit of a Fourth

On Three Essays and a Bit of a Fourth


To keep my mind active, I read some journals. Recent editions of The Hedgehog Review out of the University of Virginia’s Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, and Modern Age, published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have essays on our post-modern dilemma.  I should say that I’m seldom satisfied with essays in The Hedgehog Review. The essays will often describe appalling conditions in modern culture, yearn for a more cohesive and unified culture, hint that solutions, if there are any, are to be found in more traditional mores and beliefs, such as found in religion, and then pull their punches, retreat to a boring, academic standoffishness. I find Modern Age more straightforward and honest.

However, along with a Modern Age essay in the Winter 2017 issue, “Pascal in the Post Christian World,” by Ann Hartle, I was intrigued by two Hedgehog Review essays (Spring 2017), “The Walking Wounded,” by Ann Townsend, and “Lessons of Mother Love,” by Regina Mara Schwarz. But I’ll start with some comments inspired by an essay more typical of Hedgehog Review, “The New Old Ways of Self Help,” by Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn.

The Lasch-Quinn essay covers how every topic (from history to mathematics and everything in between) is now approached as a self-help topic and looked upon as a guide for living, how these guides are not ultimately helpful, and where, in her opinion, Ancient Greece and Rome, we should look for other guides. Which brings me to diversions and how men and women use them as a source for meaning. Continue reading

The Movie, I Know Where I’m Going

I Know Where I’m Going

Another of the wonderful Archers films.  The character Joan Webster, intent on marrying an older, wealthy businessman, in large part because he is wealthy, tries unsuccessfully to reach the island in the Hebrides where their marriage is to take place.  She is unable to reach the island as there is a major storm battering the area.    Along the way, she keeps running into, and depending on, the local laird, Torquil MacNeil of Kiloran. 

It is funny how many old films and plays depend on the encounter of the urban sophisticate with the natives of a more rural, traditional area, where generally the sophisticate learns something essential about life to their own benefit.  “I Know Where I’m Going,” fits into this mold. 

The title, “I Know Where I’m Going,” comes from a folk song with the refrain, “I know where I’m going, and I know who’s going with me, I know who I love, but the day knows who I’ll marry,” a variation on the “Man proposes, but God disposes,” theme, which gets played out in the movie. Continue reading

On Exhibition Catalogues or Great British Drawings: Art Book Appreciation

An exhibition catalogue is a generally large book with notes and pictures of the paintings, drawings or other works of art exhibited at a particular show at a museum.

The notes, what do we want in the notes? A description of the subject matter of each of the works of art? A bit of the biography of the artist or artists? A description of how the art was created and what materials were used? An idea of where the artist was at geographically, professionally, chronologically, emotionally and spiritually when he or she created the art? In a perfect world, all of the above and possibly more.

Much of this may be found in Great British Drawings, the catalogue of an exhibit held at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum in 2015. The book presents a number of the Ashmolean’s own drawings from 1650 to modern times. Along with the extensive notes on each drawing, there are very good introductory essays on the history of British drawing schools and British watercolors (or “watercolours”). The only negative I saw was that the Ashmolean’s definition of drawing is broad, including what I would describe more as watercolor paintings. Though I am a great fan of watercolor, I would have preferred to see more works strictly in charcoal, graphite and pen and ink. Continue reading

Art Book Appreciation: Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light

This is my second favorite non-fiction book of any sort, coming after Beautiful Swimmers, a book about Maryland blue crabs.

This book was an exhibition catalogue issued in connection with an exhibition held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008. However, the text is far more detailed than you usually find in such books.

It provides a biography of Homer, a very private person of whom little of his interior life is known. Thankfully it does not engage in any unfounded speculation on such matters, only discussing what is known.

The Art Institute has an extensive collection of Homer’s watercolors and as far as I can tell, they are all included in large, beautifully rendered reproductions. These include his early works in New England after the Civil War, his work in the fishing village of Cullercoats in England, his work back in New England at Prouts Neck, Maine, his hunting and fishing pictures, and his tropical watercolors from the Caribbean and Florida. The works and Homer’s relations to these locations are fully discussed in very clear, flowing prose. Continue reading

Art Show: The Christos Collective, “Current”

My daughter, a devout Catholic and an uberfan of the contemporary music scene, was teased with the statement that she goes, “moshing for Jesus.” Shortly after I learned this, I was sitting in a cafe [a great place, “The Noshery,” across from Regis University], and saw two young men speaking with great passion about their faith life and the nine holes they had played that morning—they belonged to a Christian campus fellowship that combines golf with religion, so “golfing for Jesus.” I teased my daughter that this seems a much healthier approach. She countered that she is no longer in college, so wouldn’t be eligible.

In a roundabout way, and I hope if they read this, they will be amused by the intro, this brings me to the Christos Collective, or “painting for Jesus.” The collective has a show presently at Artwork Network, a gallery at the corner of 8th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive in Denver. The artists, very different in styles, are held together by their common Christian faith and their desire to share that faith through art. Continue reading

Art Books I Have Known and Loved or Some Elements of Sketching

I do volunteer work with the Art Students’ League of Denver and my present duties involve helping them catalogue their small library. Subsequently I have seen a lot of art books. Other local libraries and my own collection have supplied even more. I’d like to share my thoughts on some of the better books I’ve seen: “how-to” books and books on individual artists, styles, and types of art. To start with, I’ll write about a rather beat up book on sketching I discovered at the Denver Central Library.

Some Elements of Sketching by Geoffrey Fletcher

Although one of my drawing teachers told me there are at least fourteen methods of drawing the human figure, I have generally seen two basic approaches, both for figures and other subjects. One could be called the organic approach, “start from the top, draw what you see, don’t stop until you reach the bottom, and make corrections as you go along.” The second is more step by step, “measure carefully, first make these kinds of lines, then this sort, then follow up with shading in the following manner.” Of course there is a lot of overlap, and both methods are capable of producing beautiful art and competent creative artists. One or the other method may be better at different stages of our learning. I’ve found the step by step approach worked best when I knew nothing and now that I am becoming more competent, it is easier, albeit still painfully slow, to “draw what I see.”

Which brings me to the book; Some Elements of Sketching, by an admitted admirer of Ruskin, is definitely in the organic mode.  The author sees himself as more of a giver of advice on how to approach drawing than a writer of a how-to manual. Continue reading

The Awful Truth

The Awful Truth


The Awful Truth has dialogue that can only be described as sparkling (dialogue I wish I could write) and situations that are awkward and embarrassing for the characters, but very funny for the rest of us.


The truth of the title is the movie’s central concern, and is contrasted again and again by the falsity which with the two main characters, a couple on the brink of divorce, are attempting to live their lives.  Awful it is, because the truth hits them at every turn no matter how hard they try to avoid it.  We and the characters may not see it right off, if at all, but clearly the director Leo McCarey has the more profound meaning of awful, i.e. “inspiring awe,” in mind as well.


I know I’m making it sound dreadful, like an Ida Lupino or Joan Crawford tearjerker, and nothing could be further from the truth, that word again.  No, this is the quintessential screwball comedy with every scene evoking laughter, and both of the main actors, Irene Dunn and Cary Grant, at the top of their comedic form. Continue reading

A Pilgrimage

A Pilgrimage


Two of my children were in Europe for World Youth Day last summer, and in thanksgiving for them having made it safely, and in prayer for their safe return, I decided I would do my own pilgrimage—a walking pilgrimage.

I’m not much for the long walks anymore, though I managed twenty miles a couple years back with my son’s Boy Scout troop. My knowledge of long walks and walking pilgrimages was confined to Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines and those favorites of J.D. Salinger, The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way.

But what started as a bit of an internal whim grew to more of a sense of commitment. Though she worked close to my area of Denver, and I’ve always had a sense of historical interest in her and the Italians in Colorado, I’ve never had much of a devotion to Mother Cabrini, (though the “Steak Cabrini” at “My Brother’s Bar” is very good), but when you think of a pilgrimage in our area, you are generally thinking the Mother Cabrini Shrine near Golden on Lookout Mountain. You will sometimes see walkers near there along with the usual mountain bikers. And once I ran into a group of people, priests and a brother, mothers and fathers with children, and a rather attractive outré, Gothic girl, walking together along Zuni, and when I asked, one of the men told me they were headed to the Shrine. They were from the St. Pius X Society church out in Watkins, St. Isidore’s. Regarding the outré girl, you’ll see artsy types at times attracted to the Tridentine Mass. Which reminds me of the famous letter signed by a number of British artists and writers in the sixties, Catholic and non-Catholic, including my favorite writer, Rumer Godden, protesting the loss of the Latin Mass. Now doing an ancient thing brings contradictions in these modern times; it isn’t like we have a clear Walsingham Way marked in the dirt at our feet and in the hearts of ourselves and our neighbors. So on to the Internet seeking a map.

I did a Mapquest that I wasn’t sure I trusted, and lo and behold I then found the Watkins church’s pilgrimage route. It turns out that they do the pilgrimage once a year, this year late August, and they, children, nursing moms, outré girls, et al, walk all the way from Watkins, over twice as far as I.

Of course, being a McGrail, I did little other advance prep and got started on a Friday Continue reading

The Movie: The Smallest Show on Earth


Who with a love for movies, hasn’t had the dream of owning their own theater, where on a Thursday night, say, they could show the classics, or perhaps on a Saturday afternoon revive the old adventure serials for the neighborhood youngsters?

In this film, a young couple, played by Bill Travers and the incomparably beautiful Virginia McKenna (having the Carole Lombard quality of looks and comic ability) have that dream thrust upon them. The husband learns that his great uncle has left him his entire estate. We first meet the couple in their small apartment when they discover their good fortune from a letter, speculate as to what this estate may consist of, and, as all of us would, have the money spent in their minds in very creative ways before they get it. Only later do they learn that the estate consists of a movie theater. Not too bad, they realize, when they get to the industrial town with the glue factory smell, at least this theater is huge, modern, and well run—“The Grand.”

Alas, the cab driver who told them “The Grand,” was the only theater in town, had misspoke. There is another theater, “The Bijou,” and everything the Grand was, the Bijou is not. Continue reading