For adventuresome and broad-minded viewers, I do recommend Paul Festa’s provocative film “Apparition of the Eternal Church,” which explores the unexpected responses of a variety of people to a first-time hearing of that mesmerizing 1931 score by Messiaen. It's a fascinating portrait of how people listen to music and what they imagine. (39:10)
His film Apparition of the Eternal Church was one of my primary inspirations to start Why We Listen. It’s a sort of experimental documentary that observes people as they listen to Olivier Messiaen’s organ composition "Apparition of the Eternal Church." It’s a really moving film and I recommend it very, very highly.
You needn’t be a pipe organ cabalist or an initiate of the new-music illuminati to be moved, even shaken, by Olivier Messiaen’s music for the instrument he played most of his life. “Apparition of the Eternal Church,” a 2006 film by Paul Festa, makes the point vividly; in it, Mr. Festa claps headphones on writers, performers and quasi celebrities, then captures their reactions of bemusement, perplexity and awe as they listen to Messiaen’s landmark 1932 piece, “Apparition de l’Église Éternelle.”
"This hour, watching headshots of individuals listening to music we can't hear, is entirely absorbing, moving – sublime, even. From invocations of religious imagery and howls of pain, to ecstasies of both the divine and the sexual, the immediate responses to the music are consistently hilarious, intelligent and primal."
"One of Festa’s brilliant editing touches is depriving the viewer from hearing the music until the very end of the film, when Messiaen’s Apparition de l’Eglise Éternelle, played by Olivier Latry, forms the soundtrack to a rather chilling collection of text slides, followed by the credits. The piece seems to have been transformed by the comments that have gone before, and we may never hear it quite the same way again."
"Not everyone can put up with Messiaen’s Catholic ecstasies, but his canonical status seems assured, and his devotees are numerous and zealous. Paul Festa, who has made a remarkable film, “Apparition of the Eternal Church,” about the experience of listening to Messiaen, suggests that the composer has become the focus of a new kind of nondenominational religious feeling, distinct from Catholicism. Messiaen might have been horrified by the notion, but his binding together of sensual and spiritual impulses is a force that acts upon diverse audiences with unpredictable intensity."
"A knock-out Messiaen-on-acid documentary."
"The internationally acclaimed documentary...attempts to answer the question: what does Messiaen’s passionately Christian music sound like to non-Christians? Listeners, who range from the late Juilliard professor Albert Fuller to Broadway stars and drag queens...allude to childhood, architecture, and literature, even as they conjure a distinctly 'Messiaenic' vision of damnation and spiritual ecstasy.."
"The elements of religion, emotion, violence and sex in the film bring to light the collision between the human and the divine, the emotional and the spiritual."
"Stunning...perhaps the finest film ever made on how people experience music, and one of the best-crafted and moving documentaries in a very long time."
"Remarkable...intensely personal...nothing can quite prepare you for the experience."
"A wonderful film."
"May be the best description of the Messiaen effect on record...circles around the mystery of music and subjectivity and touches down on a head-spinning array of topics...a bravura performance, not to be missed."
"Two NYC events should be added to the calendar: 1) a screening of Paul Festa's remarkable documentary Apparition of the Eternal Church at St. Bartholomew's Church on Feb. 27, with live performances of L'Ascension, Offrande au Saint-Sacrement, and, of course, the Apparition, along with what appears to be the New York premiere of the Fantaisie for violin and piano..."
"Takes the documentary to a new and more intriguing level...wickedly funny...the interview subjects are among the most extraordinary I have ever seen or heard in a documentary. "
(full transcript of the original interview with the Press-Register, posted by the Mobile Arts Council)
"It's not like any other film I've ever seen - and I've seen a lot of films."
"Move over, blues and gospel shouters. Make way for French composer Olivier Messiaen, and let him shake, rattle and roll a movie audience with deafening organ crescendos."
"Festa, based in San Francisco, has put together 31 colorful interview subjects that likely would chase Ken Burns off the premises."
"I mentioned the widely loved harpsichordist and organist Albert Fuller immediately below; there is now a blog devoted to his unpublished writings and memorials to him. He makes a memorable appearance in Paul Festa's mesmerizing documentary Apparition of the Eternal Church, in which people from various walks of life (including none other than Justin Bond of Kiki & Herb) react to Messiaen's early organ masterpiece."
"Un curioso e interessante esperimento, una testimonianza fuori dai canoni sul potere ancestrale a musica ancora
in grado di esercitare."
"Apparition of the Eternal Church, which will be Sunday night's feature screening at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, more than lives up to its billing as an experimental documentary. The San Francisco writer/musician/filmmaker's subjects include one woman with flaming antlers, two drag queens, a half-dozen professors and countless actors, musicians and artists--all of whom are individually subjected to a single piece of music, Olivier Messiaen's 1931 Apparition de L'Eglise Eternelle."