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Something Beautiful for God (1969)

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The birth of a scam
3 May 2015 | by (Germany) – See all my reviews

In 1969 director Peter Chafer and Malcolm Mudderidge, a born-again Christian and later-Catholic, took it upon themselves to film a documentary on Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, an Albanian nun, who was running "The House of the Dying", a hospice in Calcutta, India. Right, let's go to brass-tax straight away: This "documentary" was canonical to turn Agnes Bojaxhiu - under her nome de guerre Mother Theresa - into something of a contemporary saint, decades before she actually died. Her "House of the Dying" has often been compared by outsiders to something "that looks like a concentration-camp", where the ailing have to squatter on makeshift mattresses, their heads shaved and communication to the outside world, friends and family being generally forbidden, waiting for death to come for them. In between we have nuns, who roam this death-house, trying to convert the dying to Catholicism. Medical care being limited to the occasional dose of aspirin (like the title says, it's a "house of the dying", not a clinic, where the various diseases and illnesses would actually be treated).

Let's talk technical aspects: Filming in Mother Theresa's "house of the dying" wasn't easy, since the place was very dimly lit, making it very difficult to get a clear picture. "Fortunately", Kodak had just developed a new type of film, which made the filming possible. Viewing the footage at the Eeling Studios and seeing the pristine pictures, Cameraman Ken Macmillan was just short of remarking, "three cheers to Kodak", when Muggeridge blurred out "It's divine light! It's Mother Theresa!", pointing out that for the very first time a miracle has been caught on camera. Hence the legend of a saintly little nun was born and, again thanks to Mudderidge, soon the media circled around this story like vultures.

Hence, the legend of Mother Theresa was born. For the next thirty years, Bojaxhiu would tour the world, become the leading story in many a tabloid, shaking the hands of many-a celebrity, from Nancy Reagan to Diana Spencer, former Princess of Whales, while talking, well, not about her "House of the Dying", but her favorite topics: Abortions and contraceptives. Like a broken record she would repeat her message that abortions, divorce and contraceptives being evil. A message that fell on fertile ground, especially in Third World countries, causing much suffering and death, even at the moment as I'm typing this. In between, she shook more hands of the rich and powerful, collection donations left and right. None of these donations would go to her "House of the Dying", but rather went to establishing nunneries around the world, where new generations of zealots were bred for the "holy cause". Yes, Theresa didn't even shy away from rubbing shoulders with dictators like "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti or Enver Hoxia in her native Albania (just to mention two abominable scoundrels, who took the cash from their own exploited people, handing it to Theresa while lining up for a photo-shot with the 'holy woman'). Need we mention that Theresa took all those checks without discrimination? And of course there was an army of believing, tabloid-hungry housewives, who soon styled as some sort of living saint in what can only be labeled idol-worship.

Technically, "Something beautiful for God" is a rather bland, self-important hack-job, which explains why the film is pretty much forgotten, while Bojaxhiu legacy continues to thrive. Indeed, as we talk, the Vatican is trying to cook up various miracles in order to turn her into a saint. But for those who are interested in the topic of Mother Theresa, without necessarily wanting to watch it through the looking-glass of a fan and believer, I do recommend Christopher Hitchens short but poignant documentary "Hell's Angel:

2/10


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