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'Soul' launches an absurd attack on Catholic art

''The Rape of the Soul" is a fear-mongering, small-minded, and pathetically smutty polemic about art and the Roman Catholic Church. Presented as a documentary by filmmaker and self-described devout Catholic Michael A. Calace, the film seeks to discredit ''predatory artists" from da Vinci and Botticelli to anonymous designers of contemporary greeting cards.

Calace's mission: To reveal all the satanic faces, genitalia, spellings of the word sex, and other evidence of evil lurking in painted clouds, shadows, and designs in art related to the Catholic Church. Freud had an eye out for phallic symbols, but he would have had nothing on Calace, who sees penises everywhere he looks. He could find an orgy in a bowl of oatmeal.

Calace pits the forces of good, led by himself and a bevy of talking heads he calls experts, against the forces of evil: artists and church officials. Along the way, he lassos in the sexual abuse crisis in the church, vaguely equating his findings -- he calls them ''embeds" -- with that scandal. Unidentified still photos of convicted sexual offenders such as John Geoghan float across the screen as child psychologist Judith Reisman speaks about the damaging effects of child abuse.

Imagery is often designed to play directly to a viewer's unconscious. That's the nature of propaganda, and of advertising. But Calace's suggestion that the Archdiocese of Toronto (to name only one) is intentionally leading its flock down a road of sexual depravity and satanic worship by posting on its website an image rife with phalluses and demon faces is ludicrous.

There could have been a sixth-grade-boys-locker-room humor to all of this if Calace didn't have on his side supporters with real pulpits, like right-wing radio talk-show host Stanley Monteith. As it is, the movie, which runs well past two hours, becomes a mind-numbing litany as Calace hammers artist after artist and institution after institution.

Near the end, the lunacy reaches a peak when he derides Jan van Eyck's 1434 painting ''The Arnolfini Marriage."

No genitalia here, praise be. Instead, Calace observes that the figures eerily resemble Vladimir Putin and his wife.

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