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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Magic Mushrooms, Messiaen and the Marsh Chapel Miracle

Scholar, performer and composer Peter Bannister
Peter Bannister has the first installment of what is already a fascinating examination of the connection between psychedelic drugs and religious response. Happily, he leads with reminiscences of two Apparition of the Eternal Church screenings, one at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, where decades earlier Harvard researchers dosed churchgoers with psilocybin.

The Apparition pull-quotes:
Extremely thought-provoking...an extraordinary exercise in musical phenomenology... The film’s genius lies in its portrayal of the capacity of Messiaen’s music, and by extension any music, to affect human consciousness at an extremely deep level... Undeniably gripping, at times hilariously funny, at others highly disturbing...ranks as one of the most penetrating studies of the nature of musical phenomena that I have ever seen.
Two months into my road trip for the new film (working title: Tie It To My Hand), I've encountered a fairly demoralizing concentration of bumps in the road (though the last week's interview/lessons with Jennifer Balderama MacDonald, Laura Miller and Eisa Davis have gone a long way toward remoralizing me), and kudos five years into a film's life is a rare event. Peter's commentary was nice to wake up to.

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des R├ęcollets.

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