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Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006)

The movie captures the responses of 31 authors, musicians, filmmakers and dancers to Olivier Messiaen's monumental organ work "Apparition of the Eternal Church." Listening to the 10-minute ... See full summary »


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Credited cast:
Nancy Kathryn Anderson ...
Documentary subject
Dan Becker ...
Documentary subject
Alexandra Beller ...
Documentary subject
Squeaky Blonde ...
Documentary subject
Harold Bloom
Justin Bond ...
Angela Warnick Buchdahl ...
Documentary subject (as Rabbi Angela Buchdahl)
Shanti Carson ...
Documentary subject
Documentary subject
Sandi Simcha Dubowski ...
Documentary subject
Documentary subject
Richard Felciano ...
Documentary subject
Kent Fuher ...
Documentary subject
Albert Fuller ...
Documentary subject
Ron Gallman ...
Documentary subject


The movie captures the responses of 31 authors, musicians, filmmakers and dancers to Olivier Messiaen's monumental organ work "Apparition of the Eternal Church." Listening to the 10-minute piece through headphones, the documentary subjects-most of whom are outsiders to the church and do not know what they're hearing-put Messiaen's project to the test: Is it possible to portray, through time-bound, invisible sound, the spiritual, the architectural, the eternal? The result is a collective interpretation improvising its way through an aesthetic landscape defined by violent contradictions. Resolution abuts eternity, eroticism asceticism, spiritual ecstasy physical torture. Together, the music and its interpreters conjure something like what William Blake famously called the marriage of heaven and hell. Written by Paul Festa

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Plot Keywords:

messiaen | organ | hell | catholicism | See All (4) »





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Release Date:

28 January 2006 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$7,500 (estimated)

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

Music Never Looked -- Or Sounded -- Better Than This
29 March 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Trying to describe unfamiliar music is an automatic exercise in futility. Music is its own language. It must be heard to be understood.

And when the music in question is Olivier Messiaen's "Apparition of the Eternal Church" (Apparition de l'Église éternelle), a ten-minute solo organ piece written in 1930 by this enigmatic and unique French composer -- well, forget it. Descriptions are not merely futile; they're downright impossible.

Well, not really. Filmmaker, musician, and writer Paul Festa has done the seemingly impossible in this brilliantly conceived and executed documentary about this one piece of music. And then some. Festa goes beyond the music to explore it's impact on a couple of dozen people who hear what is, essentially, the language of a strange and bold new world.

Festa includes, among these subjects, everyone from musicians and scholars like Albert Fuller (a renowned harpsichord and organ virtuoso who taught at Julliard), Harold Bloom ("The Western Canon," "How to Read and Why"), and Richard Felciano (who studied under Messiaen) to non-musicians hearing the piece for the first time, including filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Shortbus"), Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl.

And what do these subjects do? It's simple enough on the surface. Festa puts headphones on them, and they listen to the Apparition of the Eternal Church. Their only instruction is to react spontaneously. To describe what they're feeling, what they're seeing, and how the music is affecting them.

This is where the film becomes simply amazing, as powerful in its own way as the music it's exploring. As one who first heard this piece of music two decades ago, I've since listened to it at least a hundred times. Many of the film's subjects described the piece in the ecstatic, joyous terms that I might have used. Others, though, had radically different experiences.

Somehow in the process, Paul Festa has managed to capture the essence of these experiences (none of which are tame), and to distill them for us in a captivating and insightful look into the language of a new and shocking world of emotion, passion, and vision.

If at all possible, see this film! You'll never listen to music the same way again.

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