“Appartition of the Eternal Church” comes to Lawrence

Katy Hillbo

I walked out of the Chapel with the glazed stare of somebody who had just witnessed something BIG. My body was numb and my head was fuzzy. Coherent thoughts were completely out of the question.
Mine was only one of the many reactions to the film “Apparition of the Eternal Church” by Paul Festa, shown at Lawrence Nov. 11. In fact, the film was based around reactions — Festa had people from all walks of life listen to the song “Apparition de l’Éternelle” or “Apparition of the Eternal Church” by Olivier Messiaen. They were asked to give their reactions to the music while they listened to it. What was produced is unexpected, real and altogether human. As the strains of the monumental song thundered on their headphones, the interviewees laughed, cried, went on rants and quietly meditated, but one thing was for sure — each had an emotional response.
The music, which was unheard by the audience for the majority of the film, evoked the interviewees’ memories of childhood, sorrow, parents and sexual encounters, as well as fantasies about the Final Judgment, natural disasters, orgasms and Hell.
Messiaen himself played on themes of torture, violence and sex in religion when he wrote “Apparition de l’Éternelle.” Festa incorporated these themes into the latter part of the film. Following quotations from Friedrich Nietzsche and William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” a list of gruesome ends that people have met for the sake of religion flashed like gunfire on the screen until the words became imperceptible.
The film showing was synced with a live performance of “Apparition de l’Éternelle” played on the organ. As the sonorous chords echoed throughout the Chapel, it was the closest thing to complete and total abandon I have ever felt. I was no longer aware of myself or the people around me, but was overwhelmed by a sense of awe. It was beautiful and terrible at the same time.
“The Apparition of the Eternal Church” is a film that examines what it means to experience something bigger than yourself. The elements of religion, emotion, violence and sex in the film bring to light the collision between the human and the divine, the emotional and the spiritual.