Tag Archives: Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons: Movie Travelogue of Rome


Four Rivers Fountain, Piazza Navona, Rome

Destination: Rome

Movie: Angels and Demons

Well, here we are at the end of Italy week.  I went to the long-awaited movie of Angels and Demons around noon today. I would say it was the equivalent of dining on one of those fancy bakery cakes decorated with lard and sugar icing and fresh violets.  Absolutely beautiful, but no substance.

I think that the movie Angels and Demons reflected Angels and Demons the book perfectly.  The book was shallow and error-prone.  Ron Howard, director of the movie, said in an interview that they stripped away the non-essential things. So what do you have when you take something that is insubstantial to begin with, and strip things away? Certainly not much brain food.

I have to hand it to the model-makers, set designers, set decorators, etc.  I have been to Bernini’s Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square) at the Vatican, I had been in the tombs below the Vatican, and although I unfortunately had never been in the Sistine Chapel it is familiar from pictures. The accuracy of their portrayal in this movie should win those guys an Oscar or two.  I would have sworn the scenes in Saint Peter’s Basilica and other parts of the Vatican were really in those places. However, since the Vatican would not allow the film crew inside Vatican property, it was all the work of clever designers.  Note, however, that when the camera scans the Sistine Chapel, it moves quickly, not focusing enough for you to study the art work and statuary, and the scenes there are brief. Very clever work, indeed.

(Spoiler alert) And somebody gets loads of credit for that gorgeous, turbulent sky when the anti-matter explodes. I was waiting for Michaelangelo’s outstretched fingers of God and Adam to appear.

The dialogue, on the other hand can only be called lame.  What kind of exposition is it when a Professor of Humanities is having to tell a woman with a PhD in Physics about how Galileo thought that the earth revolved around the sun, and therefore the church excommunicated him? The movie seems to rely more on dramatic music and sound effects than dialogue to move the plot along.

When I read Angels & Demons , I thought the book  was a fun, quick, read, but superficial.  The movie is the same, but its saving grace is the gorgeous views of Rome, both aerial views and close up inside famous piazzas and churches–enough to satisfy any aficionado of Italy. And perhaps to lure some travelers to visit the Eternal City. Given that fact, I would certainly not want my negative remarks to deter you from seeing the movie.

Photograph by Vera Marie Badertscher. All rights reserved.

Ancient Rome in Literature

Roman Forum evening shadows
Roman Forum evening shadows

Destination: Rome

Books: The Masters of Rome Series by Colleen McCullough

It seems to me that is essential to have some understanding of ancient Rome if you are going to travel to today’s Rome. All those piles of rock and bits of arches in the forum, with the magnificent hulk of the Coliseum watching over it all look a lot less confusing if you know something about the daily life of the Romans at the pinnacle of the Roman Empire.

I imagine that I see togaed figures reclining on benches in the baths, or scurrying around from shop to shop trying to strike a good bargain so they can afford all those splendid mosaics in the courtyard of the summer place down at Herculaneum.

Colleen McCullough’s book are just the time ticket you need to get a look at Roman life among the wealthy, and a few hints about the life of other people in the Roman Empire also.  Like every period of history, when I imagine myself in a far distant time, I pick a good stratum of society. Wouldn’t you love to have lived in Renaissance Italy? Well, as a noble, or at least high merchant class, not as a peasant. With my love of Greece, I daydream about living in Athens in the 5th century B.C. However, not as a slave, of course. Although some scholars claim that all women were treated pretty much as slaves, others say the mothers and managers of households were revered.  And in the Roman Empire, I am the wife of a Senator (at least–if not a Caesar.) And as in Greece, the female role of courtesan sounds pretty cushy.

Back to the point. McCullough wrote seven books based on life in Rome.  The First Man in Rome started the series, and while I enjoyed it, I found it had almost too much detail. There are Roman experts who quibble with her history, although for a novelist, she did a mighty fine pile of research, in my opinion.

So dramatic was ancient Rome that many fiction books exist based on the real history. If you love Rome, or love ancient history, you’ll be trapped and find it difficult to emerge.  Try to get out by by the time I talk about the movie Angels and Demons, which looks at ecclesiastical Rome rather than ancient Rome, but provides a heck of a travelogue along the way.


Photograph by VMB, all rights reserved.

Capricious Italy

The Coliseum, Rome

Destination: Italy

Book: Italy out of Hand, A Capricious Tour by Barbara Hodgson

We are about to spend a whole week in Italy. Virtual Italy that is–through books.

Why?  Because Americans love to go to Italy? Because plenty of  literature exists to introduce us to Italy? Because several books on Italy sit on my library shelves?  Well, all of the above and one more.  At the end of this week, the predictably block-buster movie, Angels and Demons opens. I read the book long enough ago, that I have forgotten many of the details. I felt it was insubstantial, error-ridden and found it easy to solve the puzzle. But that does not stop me from being enthusiastic about the movie. I kind of like “shallow” in my movies.

Once you have seen the glorious locations in the city of Rome, you will cancel plans to visit Aunt Susie in Columbus, Ohio, and instead book the first plane to Italy. (Unless, of course you are one of my many Twitter buddies who have the good fortune to already BE in Italy.)

We start with the book the dog ate.  Really, the resident pooch loved Italy Out of Hand so much that he chewed up the cover and the corners of some pages. Being a dog of impeccable taste, he picked Florence.  However the words inside the book remain intact. And what words.

It is too bad that he ate the cover, because this book falls into that rarely published category of really attractively packaged words. Gold embossed words on the cover, lush with pictures in sepia, color or black and white.  Author Barbara Hodgson dwells on details–some serious, some quite mad–just like the country.  Her attention to detail is such that even the books typeface brings up a little story about a long-forgotten Italian.

Hodgson says “Exploring minutiae is a means of confronting a country that is too intricate and too inexplicable to tackle head on.” I’m sure that any travel writer who has tried capturing Italy, or even a part of it, is nodding in agreement.

Although I’m generally very methodical in my front to back reading of a book, this book invites diversions. Since it is arranged geographically, I delved into Florence, Venice and Rome before I went there three years ago and for days all my sentences started with “Did you know…..” So don’t get me started. Just go read. Then travel.

And I sincerely hope your dog does not get ahold of your book.

Photograph by Vera Marie Badertscher. All rights reserved.