Blinking Madonna transcription
The Blinking Madonna and Other Miracles, Transcription
Edited by Daniel W. Patterson
CHILD: What is a miracle?
TV ANNOUNCER: That's what filmmaker Beth Harrington wanted to know. Who would have thought that she of all people would find herself right in the middle of a miracle? You know, no matter where you come from, no matter what you think you've left behind, sometimes, fate sneaks up on you and changes your life in the funniest ways.
Stay tuned for one woman's zany and heartfelt spiritual journey, "The Blinking Madonna & Other Miracles", up next.
Major funding for this program was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding was provided by the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation, and by the following donors. A complete list is available from the Independent Television Service.
The Blinking Madonna & Other Miracles
(credits roll over moving images of Beth Harrington at work and the child’s song below)
The People of Boston’s North End
Beth Harrington & Debra Granik
MUSIC COMPOSED BY
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
PRODUCED, WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY
(V/O singing) CHILD’S VOICE:
Hail, Holy queen enthroned above,
Holy Mother of mercy and of love,
Triumph, all ye cherubim.
Sing with us, ye seraphim.
Heaven and earth resound the hymn,
BETH HARRINGTON: Not so very long ago, I found myself in the middle of a miracle. At first, I didn't believe it, and I wondered, "Why is this happening to me?" But now I think there's a certain logic to it. I mean, just look where I come from. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1955. My parents were city kids, Irish-American and Italian-American. From that combination, you can safely deduce that we were Catholic. Not long after I was born, my parents did what a lot of American post-war couples were doing. They left the city and set up housekeeping in the suburbs. Those years, the late Fifties and early Sixties, have been described more than once as a time of optimism, and in my secure little world in suburban Massachusetts, that was, indeed, how I viewed it.
NARRATOR 2: After a hard day's work, the man looks forward to a home he can be proud of.
BETH: Dad was a talented, up-and-coming young advertising executive, and Mama was a devoted stay-at-home mom in an era in American history when that was still an option. I think these were heady times for people like my parents, and all of this was bolstered by an overriding set of images, for a young, white, ethnic, Catholic family from Massachusetts. It was clear that our time was now. In keeping with the tone of the times, my mother sent me to Catholic school. This is where I started the year that John F. Kennedy was inaugurated the first Catholic president of the United States.
(filmmaker begins to interweave images from early documentary film footage with dramatic enactments to match her reminiscences about experiences as a small girl, depicted by a girl she names Little Beth)
That's me, in 1961. Well, actually, she's much cuter than I was, but hey, it's my movie.
NUN (SISTER K): Good morning, class!
STUDENTS: Good morning, Sister,
LITTLE BETH: Good morning, Sister.
SISTER K: And they are jumping on what?
BETH: Our school was staffed with pretty artsy, idealistic nuns, the prototypes for all those happy nuns you'd see in the sixties. You know, the singing nuns, flying nuns, how-do-you-solve-a-problem-like-Maria nuns. Plucky, perky, new frontier types.
(nun in a period documentary arrives at a school on a motor bike)
NARRATOR in this early documentary: More and more teenagers are passing up rock and roll for a rocket role! Sister Dun Scotus, a physics teacher, supervises members of the Afton Minnesota Rocket Society attempting to send a mouse along.
ROCKET EVENT ANNOUNCER: Five, four, three, two, one, go! (rocket blast) Good, long ride all the way. Godspeed, Captain.
ANNOUNCER AT AN ACTUAL ROCKET LAUNCH: Five, four, three—(a large rocket blasts off and rises)
(the nun in the classroom sounds a note on a pitch pipe)
SISTER K (singing): Ooh. Ooh. Hold that note.
LITTLE BETH: Ooh.
SISTER K (singing):
Cheer for our Catholic school.
We love her best.
Shout out her name aloud and tell the world
That none can top her.
BETH: Our school song was sung to the tune of a Navy anthem, "Anchors Away."
LITTLE BETH (in an aside to the viewer): That's because our pastor was an ex-Navy Chaplain.
SISTER K, FATHER M (the pastor), AND LITTLE BETH (singing):
As on we go we'll always aim,
Aim to prove our love and loyalty.
BETH: He was a pleasant, relaxed guy. Always wore golf togs with his clerical robes. If our nuns were 1960s Julie Andrews nuns, our pastor was a 1940s Bing Crosby "Going My Way" kind of priest.
SISTER K (conversing with FATHER M): How was your golf game?
BETH: I think these people grasped Hollywood, or at least a sense of the theatrical, in a way I didn't appreciate at the time. Now, I think they would have made great Hollywood pitchmen. They inherently understood high concept and good storytelling. My first-grade nun in particular was a pro. Her stories of the lives of the saints reeled you right in.
SISTER K (dramatizing the scene, with Little Beth looking horrified): And so, St. Laurence was condemned to death, to be roasted alive on a grid! But St. Laurence was secure in his faith, and so, remained calm during the ordeal, much to the amazement of the Romans. The heat was unbearable, but our saint was not dismayed, and as the flame licked the flesh of St. Laurence, he defiantly looked into his persecutor's eyes and said, "Turned me over. I'm done on that side!"
BETH: She'd often leave you with a cliffhanger.
SISTER K: Will St. Laurence be roasted alive? Will the Romans send the Christians off to their death in the Coliseum? Will the sinful noble man pluck out good and pure St. Lucy's eyes? Stay tuned for tomorrow's religion class for answers to these and other questions!
BETH: The power of her theatrics had me hooked.
SISTER K: N, a T. And John?
CHILD: An apostrophe?
SISTER K: That's right! An apostrophe! Good.
BETH: As a result, I spent a lot of time thinking about the saints.
SISTER K: D. Capital D, correct. And a?
NUN: A! Correct! Good.
BETH: The nuns even had us dress as our patron saints for Halloween. I mean, All Saints' Day.
SISTER K: All Saint's Day! Yes! Good. And what don't we want?
SISTER K: That's right! Halloween. We don't want Halloween! Why? Because it is what?
SISTER K: Pagan! That's correct! Good!
BETH: The boys' costumes seem to prove that you can take the boy out of Halloween.
BOY: I'm St. Michael, the Archangel, and I drove Lucifer out of Heaven.
BETH: But you can't take the Halloween out of the boy.
BOY 2: I'm Lazarus, and I rose from the dead.
BOY 3: I'm St. Patrick, and I drove all the snakes out of Ireland.
BOY 4: I'm John the Baptist, and I was beheaded.
BOY 5:- I'm St. Sebastian, and I got shot with arrows.
BOY 6: I'm St. Laurence, and I was roasted alive.
BETH: We girls had a harder time of costuming. Unless you were Joan of Arc who naturally got to wear armor, the images of female saints seem pretty bland overall. You know, your standard-issue tunic and veil.
GIRL: I'm St. Anne, and I was very Holy.
GIRL 2: I'm St. Margaret, and I was very Holy.
GIRL3: I am St. Rita, and I was very Holy.
GIRL 4: I am St. Elizabeth, and I was very Holy.
BETH: Of course, some girls got creative anyway. I remember Terry Bella's mother made her an awesome St. Theresa, the little flower, costume, complete with miracle cape that showered down real paper roses when you opened it. Still, for my money, the best female Saint, the one with the best stories, was the Virgin Mary. Not only was she the mother of Jesus Christ—which made her the highest-ranking female in Heaven—she also made a point of appearing to children, often to the exclusion of adults.
(a clip from the 1952 Hollywood film The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima)
A MAN: do you hear anything?
MATTO: Only a sound like wind in the trees.
A WOMAN: There is no wind. The whole earth is still.
YOUNG GIRL: My lady, these people can't see you or hear you as we do. Many of them don't believe you appear to us.
VIRGIN MARY: In October, I will give them a sign that will make them believe.
BETH: After all, she appeared to three children in a remote pasture in Portugal.
(a child in the film and then the assembled people sing “Regina Coeli”)
BETH (V/O): And she appeared in a dank grotto in Basque, France, to Bernadette, so why not by my swing set on Eleanor Drive? I was devout. I got good grades. I figured if I just prayed a little bit harder, said an extra rosary or a good act of contrition, it would only be a matter of time 'til she appeared to me. Of course, stories of the lives of the saints weren't all we were getting in school. Like I said, these were the Kennedy years. JFK was in the White House, and he was young, handsome, and charismatic, like the nuns' very own rockstar. He was full of all sorts of idealistic sounding plans, and things seem to happen around him, and I was right there with him—or at least that's how I felt. It was not lost on me, for example, that the head of the Archdiocese of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, was big buddies with the president.
CARDINAL RICHARD CUSHING (from a film of the inauguration of President Kennedy): . . .the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen. In this year of our Lord 1961 we ask the almighty God to enlighten us, that we may know, as men, our personal responsibility.
BETH: Somehow, this made me feel like I had a leg up on, say, the public school kids.
CARDINAL: . . . social and humanitarian responsibility.
BETH: But naturally, I felt pressure too. I mean, I didn't want JFK to mess up.
LITTLE BETH: Sister said he was an example for us all.
BETH: We all felt it, so we prayed for him constantly. I began to feel like we were helping him do his job. And sometimes, he needed all the help he could get.
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba.
BETH: Naturally, some situations merited more praying than others, and that was when the nuns pushed the Virgin Mary's secret weapon, the rosary. Groups of prayers counted off on beads mandated by the Virgin Mary herself in one of her apparitions. Sister said the rosary was supposed to be particularly effective against communists, and as it happened, that was our immediate problem. Fidel Castro was the boogie man I saw my nightmares. During the Cuban missile crisis, I remember Cardinal Cushing would pray the rosary on the radio.
CARDINAL (reading “The Apostle’s Creed”):
. . . Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ,
His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary;
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell;
the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
CARDINAL (reading “The Lord’s Prayer”):
Our Father who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
BETH: There was something potent and formidable about that drone.
. . . as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
CARDINAL: Hail Mary., full of Grace. God is with thee. . .
BETH: Born of Irish Boston, a direct link to God and the Kennedys, but would it be enough to ward off disaster?
CARDINAL: Hail Mary, full of Grace. God is with thee.
Blessed art thou. . .
BETH: Fidel never did bomb us. My faith in the rosary was confirmed. Still, the world seemed to be changing in ways that adults didn't seem to anticipate. Of course, some adults seemed less worried than others.
CARDINAL (alternating with the congregation, continues the prayer)
BETH: Around this time, I guess I began to understand that the world wasn't such a tidy little place.
CARDINAL (from a newscast, followed by scenes from the President’s funeral): My dearly beloved friends, my heart is overwhelmed with grief at the tragic news of, what I would call, the martyrdom of the president of the United States.
NUN IN A MOVIE CLIP (pointing to a globe): If we could see the world in which we live from far off, it would look like this.
BETH And I started to see that some problems couldn't be solved with prayer alone.
I also began to feel that much of what looked interesting to me was in direct opposition to what I'd been taught in grade school. And, over time, I felt like those guys in Rome just didn't get it.
(what follows is a mix of strategically juxtaposed photos and clips from Hollywood movies and news accounts of pop music, the Vietnam War, civil rights and feminist protests, hippies and drug use, and other issues of the era)
TV ADVERTISEMENT: The contraceptive pill prevents ovulation.
NUN IN A MOVIE: I don't know what to say.
PRIEST IN THE MOVIE: That's how I felt.
JOHN LENNON: We meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time.
A DOCTOR: Teenage is a time of life that's full of conflict. It's a time when people are struggling with who they are, what they want to become.
A PRIEST: We are like roses growing in the sun.
NUN IN A MOVIE: You would like to join this club? Well, in order to join, you must make some little sacrifices for the pagan children.
BETH: In those days, it seemed like battle lines were being drawn everywhere. In my mind, I guess I drew a few of my own.
PROTEST SPEAKER: A new nation. Right here, we are a new nation. Love it or leave it—we have left.
BLACK MARCHERS (singing): Revolution has come.
PROTEST MOB (chanting): The whole world's watching! The whole world's watching!
RUSSELL MEANS: Therefore, we have declared Wounded Knee an independent country.
CESAR CHAVEZ: Doesn't matter for the country. Doesn't matter if it's little.
WOMEN’S GROUP: Hey mister, see us out. Power to all women.
GLORIA STEINEM: To see women supporting other women and standing up for their own rights is really, very, very moving and gratifying.
NUN IN A MOVIE (to her class): But there is someone who sees all of us and watches over us day and night. Who can tell us who that is?
BETH: Somewhere along the way, I forgot the answer to that question. Gradually, and without fanfare, I became the quintessential fallen-away Catholic.
Of the many things I rejected in those years, one of them was not family. I mean, we had our moments, but I came to see my family as the real thing, and I loved and admired them for that authenticity. The Italian-Americans in particular were genuine characters, bigger-than-life people with big opinions, and big appetites, and big personalities. So, years later, when I left the suburbs and moved to Boston's Italian-American North End, I somehow assumed that my ethnic roots automatically qualified me for acceptance in the neighborhood. I wore my heritage like a badge, but that wasn't enough, because, you know, some people, myself included, harbor certain stereotypes about a neighborhood like the North End. You know, like the things you'd see in some major motion pictures.
(illustrating with a series of Italian-Americans, all photographed in the same spot, each making a stereotypical statement)
YOUNG MAN: You talkin' to me? I don't see anyone else here. You talking to me?
MAN IN A STRAW HAT: I don't want no inquiries, no acts of vengeance, and this war stops now, capisce?
WOMAN IN A MULTICOLORED BLOUSE: You’re my brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides against the family again.
MAN IN A WHITE SHIRT: Are you talking to me?
WOMAN IN A BLUE BLOUSE: Forget the gun! Take the cannoli!
TEENAGE BOY IN BLACK SHIRT: It’s a Sicilian message. It means he sleeps with the fishes.
WOMAN IN A LAVENDER DRESS: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
ELDERLY WOMAN (speaking Italian): Are you talking to me?
BETH: But it's much more than that. I mean, this isn't a movie set or an Italian-American theme park. It's a real neighborhood with real problems and disadvantages and quirks, as well as flavor, and character, and heart. And, unknowingly, I moved here to be part of that. All of that. Of course, when I first arrived, not all North Enders were sure they wanted people like me to be a part of their world. Anyone not born in the neighborhood was commonly thought of as an outsider.
BETH (to two women sitting outside): Hey, how you doing? Good to see ya! How's it going?
ONE WOMAN TO THE OTHER (shrugging): Another one.
BETH: Oh sure, there was a wave of young professionals moving to the North End to be close to downtown jobs, outsiders, but I didn't carry a briefcase to work or wear a suit. I was different. I was no outsider.
WOMAN’S DISMISSIVE VOICE: Come on!
BETH: My mother's grandmother came from Italy. I spoke a little Italian. I knew the difference between sauce and gravy. I was no outsider.
YOUNG MAN’S DISMISSIVE VOICE: Gimme a break.
BETH: I was raised Catholic, and most of the neighborhood was Catholic! I was no outsider.
A WOMAN’S THOUGHT: Who's she kidding?
BETH: Shortly after I moved into the North End, I began to live with a man, another outsider, whom I—progressively—did not marry. The North Enders were surprisingly accepting of this relationship.
ONE OF THE TWO WOMEN SITTING OUTSIDE (to Beth as she passes): Hi.
THE OTHER (to Beth): Hi.
BETH: I began to think they were warming up to me, and also that, in spite of their Catholicism, they didn't subscribe to all the rules and regs I'd been taught as a kid in parochial school. Well, eventually, longevity counted for something. I felt something tribal and familiar about our interactions.
VOICES SINGING (upbeat music and scatting):
You're really not outside anymore
We're finally opening that door
BETH: There was a rhythm to the way we talked that reminded me of my mother's relatives.
So forget all the fuss
'Cause now you're one of us
BETH: I recognized certain hopes, and ideas, and values.
WOMAN: For Italo-Americans, and especially for myself, family means everything to me.
TEENAGE BOY IN BLACK SHIRT: In the North End, family is it,
YOUNG WOMAN: And mama is the center of it.
WOMAN IN MULTICOLORED BLOUSE: My mother, she may be little, but she's still the boss, and I thank God I still have her.
WOMAN IN BLACK BLOUSE (speaking Italian): Family is everything. But mama is Number One!
BETH: Nobody had to paint me a picture. I knew what they were talking about. Now, for a culture that focuses on the notion of mama, it only stands to reason that it's primary religious icon would be the mother of them all, the Virgin Mary herself, La Madonna. True to its role as one of the last of the great little Italys, each summer, the North End hosts about a dozen feasts, street fairs, and processions, and several of them honor the Madonna. The longer I lived in the North End, the more I thought about the feasts. I began to realize that certain traditions have a shelf life. They won't always be with us, and maybe somebody should be documenting these events, and maybe that somebody should be me.
(V/O shots of Beth editing The Story of the Fisherman’s Feast)
So, I started to make a documentary about this one feast, all the while thinking I was objective and removed. I mean, I was a modern woman, a lapsed Catholic not given to these superstitious rituals. I thought I could keep these people and their beliefs at a cool, safe distance. I thought I could keep my own feelings about religion at bay. So confident was I that this work was about them, that I even went to Sicily with them to make a second documentary, shooting the feast from which theirs originated.
(V/O continues with shots from The Moveable Feast)
The films got used in classrooms. Anthropologists and other scholars seemed to like them, but I felt myself operating on two levels. There was Beth, the media person, the observer who hung out with the North Enders to document them, and then there was Beth, the North End wannabe. Some days, I held myself apart, and some days, I envied them.
In my 13th year in the North End, the man I lived with and I broke up. I was stunned by this development, but I wasn't the only one.
ONE OF THE WOMEN SITTING OUTSIDE TO THE OTHER: Did you see that?
BETH: I didn't want to leave the North End, but I didn't quite know what to do with myself. To make matters worse, I was out of work and pretty broke. I moved into a different apartment only blocks away from my old place, where my ex and his new girlfriend now lived. Mine was a monastic existence. Three apartments in building. My elderly Italian landlords on the first floor, an empty apartment on the second floor, and me on the third. But for solitude, nothing beat the roof. The summer months stretched out in front of me like an unbroken string of mozzarella cheese, unwieldy and hot, and not very satisfying for all the grappling. I wondered if I'd ever feel better again. Rejection stinks, even when it's for the best, and reconstructing my life from scratch took energy that I just couldn't seem to muster.
In mid-August, I heard some commotion downstairs. Drat. Three new tenants.
MAN (unloading a van) Ready?
WOMAN HELPING: Woo-hoo!
BETH: People to bump into in the hallway. People to make small talk with. People to measure my miserable life against.
MAN: Here, here, here, here,
WOMAN: No, no, no, no!
BETH: People to spoil my grand isolation. Outsiders.
MAN—MIKE HARRINGTON (unloading a piece of yard sculpture): Wait, wait, wait, this is nice. This is nice. This is nice! I'm liking this! Oh man, oh! Oh, I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. Help me!
BETH (V/O as a woman in a striped blouse and a man in a white shirt unload boxes): What's worse, two of them speak French. I never did get the hang of French, and now they can remind me of how inadequate I am in French. (speaking in learner’s French) My aunt’s pen is on the table.
MAN (speaking French, captioned as): We’ll have to do something about that tout de suite.
BETH: But here's the kicker. My landlord tells me they're airline people. You know, fun-loving, footloose, fancy-free, live for the moment types. Wherever they hang their hat is their home. They're laughing and joking bilingually. I hadn't even set eyes on them, and I despised them.
(In a reenactment of how they first me Beth is on the rooftop hanging her wash on a line to dry and eyeing a well-built young man—the Frenchman Christian—who is sunning himself with his eyes closed.)
BETH: Well, maybe despise is too strong a word.
(He opens his eyes and smiles, and Beth asks in French, “Ça va?”): It’s okay?
(She drops panties she is trying to put on the line, and they fall on him; she retrieves them and retreats, embarrassed. Then the other two neighbors—Emmanuelle and Mike—come out. Emmanuelle kisses Christian and hands him a cooler holding a bottle and gives out champagne glasses. They chatter, “Hello.” “One for you.” “One for me.” “One for you.” Christian works to open the bottle.
MIKE: Yeah, you're a big, strong boy! Oh, those muscles are good for something. Ah!
Oh. Mm. Pour, pour, pour, pour, pour. More, more, more, more, ah. To life.
THE OTHERS: To love. To us.
EMMANUELLE (seeing Beth): Oh, hello!
EMMANUELLE: Would you like some champagne?
BETH: No, thanks. A little early for me.
EMMANUELLE: It's a very good year. It's French. It's always a good year.
BETH: It's very kind of you, but really, thanks anyway. Aren't you guys airline people?
MIKE: We are, we are. We're airline people, and we can fly to the moon if you just come right over here and. . .
EMMANUELLE: No, no. Come. Come with us. Yeah. Yeah! I invite you!
CHRISTIAN: Come. I'm not total stranger. I'm your neighbor. Come.
MIKE: Come and have some champagne with us.
BETH: It's really nothing personal. Please don't take it the wrong way.
EMMANUELLE: Alright. Don't come then. Be sad. It's a very nice place, nice world to be in, but be sad if you want to. That's okay. Well, let her hide and be sad. Here, we'll drink to life.
BETH: Meanwhile, the feast season was in full swing, and one feast in particular loomed large on my personal horizon. For the first time, I looked upon a feast as a remnant of another life, a time when I imagined I was happier and more secure, and not so raw with rejection. And because of these reminders, I dreaded it all. I assumed, in their busy-ness and fervor, that my North End friends had not witnessed this passion play I was living. Our lives are too different for them to notice that I'm broken hearted. What do they know about this? How could they possibly understand?
(a mélange of shots of street decorations, a marching band, sales booths, a milling crowd, and the start of a procession)
But the feast arrived. An organism with a life all its own. My friends from the feast asked me a favor. "Come videotape the feast for us, for old time's sake. The feast wouldn't be the feast if you weren't there documenting it." I felt needed and engaged. In the face of it all, I found it hard to sustain my sadness. And then came the ultimate honor.
(the procession with the Virgin Mary halts in front of Beth Harrington, and people exchange salutes. “Viva!” “Viva!”)
BETH (to the men in the procession): Thank you very much.
The ritual cemented me to them.
Thank you very much, guys.
Toward the end of the day, I handed over the tape to my friends, and they went home to relive it all through instant replay.
BETH: Mr. Gadget, sure.
MAN: I can make a copy We got 3 VCRs.
BETH: Yeah, I know, I know. Thank you again. I'll see ya.
MEN: See ya.
BETH: Bye-bye. Take care.
BETH: The day after the feast an enormous hurricane rocked the East Coast. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was having his summer vacation interrupted with a coup d'état. I was in my apartment alternately thinking about meteorology, global politics, the feast, and the merits of European swimwear. I started to think that maybe, in spite of all my turmoil, I was feeling better.
BETH (answering her telephone):- Hello?
JIM GEANY: Hey Beth? It’s Jim.
BETH: It was Jimmy from the Feast.
JIM: Did you look at the tape you gave us?
BETH: No, no. I gave the tapes to you guys. I didn't have a chance to look at 'em.
JIM: You'd better come down to the club. It looks like there's a miracle on the tape.
BETH: A what?
JIM: A Miracle. The Madonna, she blinks!
BETH: I got to the club and found a group of men already assembled around the TV and VCR.
(a close-up shot held on the face of the Virgin Mary on the TV screen; we see her slowly blink her eyes)
CLUB MEMBER: So, Beth, what do you think?
CLUB MEMBER 2: You know we're modern people, Beth, but we don't wanna look foolish on this.
CLUB MEMBER 3: Beth, if you tell us it wasn't a miracle, we'll believe you. So, what do you think it is?
BETH: Uh, well. . . I realized that my inability to answer the question right off came from several different places.
BETH (starting to answer them)- You know, when you described it to me . . .
BETH: First, I didn't want to hurt my friends' feelings, disparage their beliefs in any way. I mean, I'd spent the previous six years making films about how terrific their devotion was, and now, here I was, ready to burst their bubble, but the bigger, more nagging questions were very old, deep-seated ones.
LITTLE BETH: What is a miracle?
BETH: And who am I to say this is not one? But I'm a modern person too, and I didn't want to appear foolish either.
BETH TO THE MEN IN THE CLUB: It's a glitch. A flip of the switch on the auto-focus. A function of my laziness, basically. I'm sorry.
CLUB MEMBER 4: We figured as much.
CLUB MEMBER 5: Yeah, we just wanted to check.
BETH: That day, my friends and I made a pact that people could believe whatever they wanted to believe, but that no one would get exploited. There would be no charging of admission to see the video tape, there would be no evangelical pronouncements about curing terminal illness, there would be no put-downs of those who believed or disbelieved. We would try not to make a big deal about it.
But the North End is the home of the big deal. There's no such thing as not making a big deal. It's a village, and tradition dictates that people spread news in the village and make a big deal out of it. Soon, I was being stopped on the street.
WOMAN IN A BLUE STRIPED BLOUSE: I heard about the miracle. Did you really do that?
WOMAN IN A BLUE DRESS: Beth, she blinked at you.
MAN IN A GRAY COAT: Is that a sign?
WOMAN IN A MULTICOLORED BLOUSE: So, how's it feel to be the St. Bernadette of the North End?
YOUNG MAN IN A T-SHIRT: She blinked at you for a reason.
YOUNG WOMAN: It was your camera. You took the picture, right?
TEENAGER IN A BLACK SHIRT: Yeah, sure. A miracle? Hm.
ELDERLY WOMAN: You! She blinked at you!
YOUNGER WOMAN: She blinked at you.
BETH: This was not comfortable terrain. I was fine when I was on the far side of the camera lens, pointing it at others and their beliefs, but to be drawn right through the lens and placed in the center of this! Well, that was more than this recovering Catholic could handle, but it was confined to the North End, and that seemed manageable.
And in spite of my reservations, I couldn't resist going to the club to see what had transpired during the day. Oftentimes, my handsome downstairs neighbor would accompany me, a charming and affable escort eager to participate in whatever was going on. Later, we would go out and talk about the evening's observations. I remember this as a stimulating time. Why, sometimes we'd stay up half the night discussing life's strange twists and turns, and the intricacies of personal belief and self realization. A week passed. A fun, upbeat, kind of silly week where I found myself laughing at myself for the first time in many, many months.
EMMANUELLE: Oh, a treat for you.
BETH: Oh really?
EMMANUELLE (spraying Beth with some fragrance): Mm-hm. Oh!
EMMANUELLE: Au revoir!
BETH: Then, just as I thought things were dying down,
MIKE: Well, just the person I'm looking for.
BETH: Oh yeah?
MIKE: How are you today, Beautiful?
BETH: I'm fine. How you doing, Mike?
MIKE: Just reading the newspaper here. Interesting newspaper. It's 35 cents. Did you know that? Boston Herald is 35 cents.
BETH: Is it really? What do you know!
BETH: Someone had talked to someone who knew someone at the Boston Herald.
MIKE: Let me just see if I can find the headline here. Where's the head? There's the headline. "North End Miracle Opening Eyes".
MIKE: Boy, oh boy, oh boy. There it is.
BETH: No way.
MIKE: Should we read it together?
BETH: Yeah. And that meant, not only a front-page tabloid-style article, but also,
TV NEWSCAST: . . . happened on August the 18th during the Fishermen Club's festival, and as Eye Witnessed News reporter Carolyn Sawyer tells us, there is a videotape, so you can judge for yourself.
CAROLYN SAWYER: Could it be the eyes of this Madonna statue actually closed, then opened again?
WITNESS: We came to visit, and I just actually believe that I saw it. You know, I thought, maybe I reflected a little bit, you know? Not that it came off, but I just believe in it. That's all.
CAROLYN: The curious came to see for themselves following the Boston Herald’s front page story and pictures taken from a home video that some say seem to show the eyes of the Lady of Perpetual Help closing, then opening again. The home video was shot August 18th during the Fishermen Club's traditional festival in honor of the Madonna. After that festival, organizers rushed to Reverend Joseph Cogo to see if, indeed, a miracle might've occurred.
JOSEPH COGO: I'm not ready to declare it a miracle, and I'm ready to declare it a farce or a fraud. Certainly, it is not a fraud.
CAROLYN: Here is the original home video. You be the judge. The Fishermen's Club found a technical type to look over the tape.
EVALUATOR: Now, as you go in, you'll see the image of somebody going up, and the shadow made the eyes blink.
CAROLYN: So the shadow did it?
EVALUATOR: The shadow did blink. But why? This, we don't know.
CAROLYN: To some, it might be clear that the camera is refocusing, but others remain faithful.
WOMAN: My sister was here yesterday, and she saw it, and she said, "Really clearly, I saw it!"
MAN: As a result, people have been coming here every night lighting candles, praying.
CAROLYN: One overly cautious Catholic summed it up well by saying the Madonna might not have closed her eyes, but this mystery has opened the eyes of many others. In Boston, Carolyn Sawyer, TV4 Eyewitness News.
NEWS ANCHOR: Is it a miracle or a spectacle?
NEWS ANCHOR 2: Tonight, a North End mystery.
NEWS ANCHOR 3: Video tape of a statue of the Madonna creates a stir.
NEWS ANCHOR 4: The 3000 people who've seen the video,
NEWS ANCHOR 5: There's a lot of talk and considerable interest in Boston's North End tonight,
NEWS ANCHOR 6: Some say it's a miracle. Others say it's an illusion or a technical,
NEWS ANCHOR 7: Supposedly shows a statue of the Virgin Mary blinking.
NEWS ANCHOR 8: Apparently, blinking her eyes.
NEWS ANCHOR 9: As it zooms in on the statute, the figure,
NEWS ANCHOR 10: They say its a message from God.
NEWS ANCHOR 11: Catholics say it's merely an out of focus.
NEWS ANCHOR 12: There are others tonight who believe.
BETH: People wanted miracles, not technological glitches,
(women gathered at statue of the Virgin Mary singing “Evviva Maria” in Italian)
and who was I to try and convince them otherwise?
As with most things in life, you can run, but you can't hide. I was trying to keep all this religion stuff at an arm’s length, and it got me in a half-nelson anyway. I mean, really, what is a miracle? Is it recognizing the people who never knew you before can revel in who you are and what you do? Is it realizing the people who have known you for a very long time understand your pain and ease it by reminding you that you belong? Is it knowing that human beings can embrace beautiful symbols, symbols of optimism and peace, like that of a benevolent mother who watches over us? Or is it simply feeling good again after feeling bad for so long? I think a miracle can be all these things and more.
(Beth, relaxing on the roof of her apartment building; her three Airline Angels appear, dressed in their flight uniforms)
MIKE: Welcome aboard. Would you like the chicken or the fish?
BETH: Is there a pasta entrée?
MIKE: There is. Oh, sorry. Oh, sorry. (presenting Beth a pin worn by flight personnel) Magic wings for you.
BETH: Thank you.
MIKE (offering to pin it on her dress): May I?
MIKE: Bye, Beth.
MIKE (yielding to Emmanuella): Her again.
(Emmanuella pantomimes that she is about to fly away, blows kisses to Beth, and yields to Christian, who kisses Beth, and leaves.)
BETH: In the aftermath of the Blinking Madonna miracle, a lot happened. I got work again, and got to make a film overseas. I met a lot of nice, interesting, new people. I joined a rock-and-roll band with some old friends. Life was good, and I had a very simple realization. Just as there are bad things that happen that you can't control, like the breakup of a relationship or losing a job, so too there are good, funny, wondrous things that you can't control, like a blinking image of the Virgin Mary on a VHS tape, and the infinite ways people will interpret that.
Shortly after the miracle, the airline people, those light, airy beings, winged figures who brought goodness and fun into my troubled existence, were gone in the blink of an eye. Well, actually, they got evicted for too much partying, but that's another story.
And that doesn't take away from the fact that I'll always think of them as my guardian angels.
I wish I could tell you that my life kept getting better and better after the Madonna blinked, but that's not how life works. I can't say I've found religion again. At least, not in the way some people mean it. I'm still trying to find the right relationship. Making films is great, but it's no day at the beach. And loss is now more a part of my life than I ever would have imagined that summer my heart was broken, except now, it's about dying. My grandparents, my best friend, and, without much warning, my mom. My tender, accepting, benevolent mother who loved her family, her heritage, and the Saints. Life's good, but sometimes, it's good and hard, and we human beings like symbols, reminders of ways to get through the hard stuff. My symbol, my reminder that there's joy around the corner and love and belonging where you least expect it, is—Well, you know what it is.
(V/O, Rick Berlin singing “Miracle,” while the Credits roll)
When I watch across the street,
You make me smile.
When I see you out there in the big world,
The crowds go wild.
But now I feel like a dinosaur raging on a battlefield,
And I fall down on my knees, ask for a miracle,
You see nobody
Even me knows how much I love you.
I mean, where are the scales of love to measure this?
I will never run away
From you, my friend away.
And I know you are protecting yourself from loss.
But if you can trust me, Baby,
Let me get this one point across.
All I have to do is think about you,
And you make me smile.
When I see you dreaming in the big world,
The crowds go wild.
There's a giant white flag in the neighborhood
Calling for victory,
And I fall down on my knees, ask for a miracle—
(lengthy credits, excerpted)
Producer, Writer & Director ….Beth Harrington
Co-Producer ……………………………… Lucia Small
Director of Photography……………….Kyle Kibbe
Music Composer…………………………..Chet Cahill
Additional Music…………………………..Chris Mehl
Cast (in order of appearance)
Little Beth………………………………Roberta Beyer
Sister K…………………………..…Trisha Zembruski
Father M………………………..Michael Harrington
St. Michael…………………………...Gerald Audette
Lazarus & St. Sebastian………….George Paone
St. Patrick…………………………….Louis Riquelme
John the Baptist………………………..…John Bello
St. Laurence…………………………….…Andy Beyer
St. Ann……………………….…..Cassandra Marino
St. Margaret…………….…Brianna Lynn Bishop
St. Rita………………………………………Diana Foster
St. Elizabeth…………………….……Roberta Beyer
St. Theresa………………………...Melanie Harkins
The Invisible Class…..….…The students at the
The North Enders
Dante Boyer Guy Martignetti
Monica Boyer Joe Mercurio
Marguerite Buonopane Mary Nastasi
Joe Caruso Lisa Pasaturo
Billy DeMarco Nancy Pellegrino
Mary Frasca Marie Polcari
Guy Giaraffa James Tardivo
J & B Variety Store
The Ex………………………………….Lee Harrington
Ex’s New Girlfriend……...Stephanie Kendrick
Head Yuppie…………….…….Christine Sandvik
Anjana Agrawal Ann McDermott
Brian Burgoon Jay McDermott
Greg Hamilton Deborah Moore
Lee Harrington Lesley Norman
Victor Johnson . Mark Norton
Beth Kaplan Megan Tingley
Doris Lowy Dan Zevin
The Airline Angels
The Men at the Madonna’s Club
Ray Bono Elio LoRusso
Vinny Bono Joseph Mellace
Jim Geany Demetrio Mercurio
Ray Geany John Primo
Music Performed by
Bass, keyboards, mandolin & vocals..Chet Cahill
Guitar & vocals………………………………..Chris Mehl
Trumpet & flugelhorn……………….……Walter Platt
Clarinet, alto & baritone sax.…Steve Ferrandino
Violin Joan Wasser
Joan Wasser appears courtesy of East/West Records
Incidental music……………………….Lee Harrington
Archive Films, Inc.
Cable News Network, Inc.
John F. Kennedy Library
UCLA Film and Television Archive
The WPA Film Library
Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima
courtesy of Warner Bros.
Song of Bernadette
provided by Twentieth Century Fox
Film Corporation. All rights reserved
sung by Roberta Beyer
Written and performed by Rick Berlin
Many thanks to The Boston Herald
for their cooperation
Special thanks to
The Boston Film/Video Foundation
The Blinking Madonna & Other Miracles
was produced in association with the
Newton Television Foundation.
For Mama and Jeannie
Beth Harrington, © 1995