Exploring the Mystery of Fourteenth Century Painting
By Nicole Knapp
May 2009
Ugolino di Nerio created quite a masterpiece in the early fourteenth century with his painting entitled Virgin and Child with Saints Francis, Andrew, Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Louis of Toulouse. It was thought to have been an altarpiece for a main church during this time period.  This piece of art, residing at the Clark Institute of Art, is not a tiny little portrait in the corner; in fact, it has a whole entire wall to itself in the Italian Art section of the museum.  It is a striking piece of work not only for its precision, but for the history and complexity behind it as well.

The portrait depicts the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus right in the middle of the portrait, and surrounding them are saints and other symbolic figures such as the Hebrew prophets.  The colors are dark with a hint of gold, but that only adds to the religious and medieval quality that it possesses.  Although there is very limited information about Ugolino di Nerio and what is considered his most famous painting, assumptions can still be made by viewing the painting and knowing the history of those in it.  For example, in the triangle directly above Mary’s head is an adult Jesus who appears to be making a motion with his hand, which looks a lot like a peace sign.  The “V” that is made with two fingers has been around since Ugolino di Nerio’s time, but it did not stand for peace; it stood for victory.  This could be a symbol for all that Jesus and the six saints below him tried to achieve in their lifetime for the good of mankind.  Considering also that many of the saints were jailed and executed, it could furthermore be a stance for victory and overcoming.

Most of the six saints on either side of Jesus and his mother had some kind of connection to Him in their lifetime or even to each other.  Saint Andrew was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, as well as one who is regarded as being closely associated with Him.  Saint Peter was Saint Andrew’s brother and also the very first apostle of Jesus.  There is not a direct connection to Jesus by the other four saints, but there are noticeable similarities in character.  Saint Paul had never known Jesus but did see a vision of Him resurrected sometime after His death.  Saint Francis was also after Jesus’ time; after changing his sinful ways, he saw Jesus on the crucifix speak to him and tell him to rebuild his church.  Louis of Toulouse bore some resemblances to Jesus, mainly in the way he lived his life and helped others.  There is barely any information about Saint Stephen at all.  Since a connection cannot be found between all of them, perhaps the figures were relevant to Ugolino di Nerio and his lifetime or perhaps to that of fourteenth century Italy.

This work of art displays a poignant time not only in religion but in history as well.  If really looked at, it can allow the viewer to think back and wonder, what exactly went on at this time?  Who were these people and what is their significance?  It is almost eerie if you consider the fates of the saints surrounding the Virgin; the brothers Saint Andrew and Saint Peter were both crucified, just as Jesus had been.  In the painting, Saint Paul is holding the long black sword he was beheaded with.  Saint Stephen was stoned to death, Louis of Toulouse died young of fever, and Saint Francis became blind and also died of illness.

Overall, Ugolino di Nerio’s Virgin and Child with Saints Francis, Andrew, Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Louis of Toulouse is a compelling piece of art and worth a view, as it is even more interesting when observed in person.  And since there is not an actual analysis of what the painting and its inhabitants represent, viewers can possibly decipher it any way they want, coming up with their own explanations of what it might mean.  Even people who are not religious can enjoy Ugolino di Nerio’s work.  It is a painting that is beautiful, historic, and thought-provoking.

Angels and Demons
A film review by Nicole Knapp
May 24, 2009

It may not be popular with the Catholic Church these days, but Angels and Demons, a religious mystery revolving around the search for a new pope, is earning positive reviews from plenty of other theater goers.  Fans of Dan Brown's novel of the same name or even newcomers will not be disappointed with this climatic roller coaster ride through present day Rome.  Not for one moment does this film stop and take a breather, so by all means, hold on!

Tom Hanks is back from 2006's The Di Vinci Code as the film's epitome of a good guy: the genius-troublemaker Robert Langdon, complete with Mickey Mouse watch and hidden agenda.  He is once again tossed into one huge, compelling mystery, only this time it is a matter of life or death.  Also starring beside Hanks is Ewan McGregor, not as a Jedi or as Moulin Rogue's sweet singing poet, but as...a priest (Camerlengo Patrick McKenna)!  Ayelet Zurer also stars as the charismatic Swedish physicist and Tom Hanks' beautiful sidekick, Vittoria Vetra.  Following is a brilliant cast of unknowns, so complex that it's difficult to tell who is good and who is evil.

The Catholic Church is plunged into a nightmare following the death of the Pope and the murder of a physicist.  Four runner-up popes have been mysteriously kidnapped and a threat unleashed that they will all be publicly executed at different times (8, 9, 10, and 11 PM).  As if that wasn't already bad enough, a dangerous vile of antimatter (also known as the 'god particle') has been stolen and if our heroes cannot find and replace the battery by midnight, it will cause a great explosion and annihilate the earth.  Intertwined into the danger are numerous fascinating and ancient church mysteries and legends that also act as clues to the possible whereabouts of the cardinals and the bomb.  Interestingly, the four elements play a large role; earth, air, fire, and water, plus the possibility of a mysterious fifth element, are all cleverly turned into murder methods.

This film, however, is not for the faint of heart.  It is complete with violence (we're talking an eyeball on the floor and live burnings) and while it's not necessarily that graphic considering its rating of PG-13, it can certainly be disturbing at times.  That being said, the sights of the massive city of Rome are breathtaking (and impressive, considering the crew had to build a replica of St. Peter's Square since the real Vatican would not let them film there!).  The stunning beauty of Rome is complete with eye pleasing, ancient architecture of statues, churches, and other various landmarks.

Be prepared to be impacted in some way when seeing this film.  You will feel the alarm in the air and be planted firmly in your seat by the suspense (and there's plenty of it!) radiating from the screen.  The urgency of the situation cannot be ignored and it's chilling that since a new pope has yet to be elected, the Catholic Church and its people have no leader during a time of such crisis.  Although the story is considerably dark, there is also some comic relief in the midst of fear and panic (why wait around and jot down important notes when you can just rip a page out of a very ancient text?).  It is relativly easy to follow and you will not get lost, as it keeps you updated with locations and times so that you can keep in mind how rapidly midnight is approaching.

Overall, the film in itself is an impressive one with a story full of unimaginable complications, mind-boggling symbolism, and twists and turns in virtually every moment of the movie.  It is very much science versus religion, and who knows who will come out on top?  As long as you go into this film with an open mind and not that of an offended church official, you will be entertained and get the full effect.  Enjoy as you race along with Tom Hanks and friends to the unexpected conclusion, desperately from church to church to try and save four cardinals from execution and the world from annihilation!

Kent Falls
A Travel Review by Nicole Knapp
May 27, 2009

The best way to describe Kent Falls State Park in Connecticut would be mysterious.  In fact, it's downright breathtaking due to the beautiful waterfalls that cascade down a 70 foot tall cliff.  It's no Niagra Falls, but nonetheless, it has a unique beauty of its very own.  As soon as you get out of your vehicle in the spacious parking lot, you will be aware of the never-ending, comforting whooshing of the waterfalls, which does not cease until it's time to get back in your vehicle to leave.  Hiking, fishing, and picnicking are just a few of the popular activities here.

To get over to the falls,one can either walk through the large meadow or cross the light blue covered bridge to the footpath and follow the stream.  There are picnic tables scattered everywhere, as well as little mini grills for cookouts and picnics.  Rolling hills and tree covered cliffs surround the entire area, making for a shaded and somewhat dark area that makes the location of the falls even more mysterious.  Once you are at the foot of the falls, look behind you and you can see the tree covered mountains outlined against the sky in the distance.

There are seventeen different waterfalls but standing at the bottom, one would never know it.  There are only four waterfalls in view: the two larger ones cascading off flat plateaus on the bottom, and the two smaller ones flowing down from what would appear to be the top.  Large slabs of different neutral-colored rocks and tiny silver streams surround these falls, as well as green trees as far as the eye can see.  Each waterfall falls into a small pool, which turns into a stream that runs back to the parking lot and into the Housatonic River.  It hsa a Native American-like feel to it and according to the Kent Falls website, there is evidence that Native Americans once camped and fished there.

There is a lovely plateau made of smooth slabs of grayish-pink flat rock laid out before the waterfalls, so that visitors can enjoy the view safely (considering the sign posted on a nearby tree that warns: "These rocks are dangerous.  Do not climb.")  It has four wide palace-like steps leading down to the lowest pool of water.  It is a large area that is almost medieval-like, complete with a beautiful stone bench and other seats, that provides an excellent and up close view of the falls.  There is a set of steps leading up to a cute little balcony with a railing.

But the front view is not the only view!  Futher up, a trail can be seen ascending into the woods; it is about 1/4 of a mile long alongside the waterfalls.  It is easy to follow, but very steep.  TO the left is a tiny nature-inspired staircase leading down to a full circle rock grove with a perfect view of the second waterfall.  The trail itself is beautiful and well-kept, with a steel fence on one side and a stone encasement on the other.  It's a normal uphill climb in some parts, and part stone stepped staircase in others.  There are benches to sit on, as well as trails that lead into the woods opposite the waterfalls.  If you love to hike, then this is the trail for you.

There are three seperate little balconies set on the trail that overlok the falls; one can't get much closer than this!  Once you reach the second balcony, you will discover that there are even more tiny waterfalls.  The third balcony is nestled way about the fourth waterfall in its own little nook and from here one can see that the waterfall resembles a water slide at an amusement park, with all its twists and turns.  This is also where one can look up and see that the trail goes up even further.  A trickling vertical line of water can be see in the far distance through the trees, suggesting that there are even more waterfalls as you advance.  But it will be left to the visitors to go unravel that mystery of how far up these momentous waterfalls actually go.

Once you get to the bottom again and look up, you can only imagine how many mysteries (or more hidden waterfalls) lie beyond in secret, waiting to be discovered.  The spot is tranquil and truly nature at its finest.  It must be witnessed in person, since words cannot possibly do it justice.  It makes one wonder who has been here since the earliest times in history to witness this powerful landmark that has an undeniable ancient and haunting appeal.  It is very well kept and clean; a perfect trip for anyone, whether it be family, a group of friends, or a couple.  It's amazing that many little waterfalls could create something so powerful and remarkable.

                                                                 My boyfriend, Matt, and I at Kent Falls.

Dance Flick
A film review by Nicole Knapp
May 29, 2009

We've all heard of Disaster Movie, Date Movie, Superhero Movie, and of course, the numerous Scary Movies, but the concept of a film parodying dance movies is rather new.  Enter Dance Flick, a parody of different dance films mainly from the last ten years, with a few 80s gems.  The concept of a dance movie is pretty unique (and almost ironic how it all fits together so nicely); it intertwines dance movies into one story and is interesting to watch and wonder, what exactly is going to happen next?

Starring in this flick is Shoshana Bush, as Megan White, and Damon Wayans Jr. as Thomas Uncles, both fairly new to the acting world.  TV actress Essence Atkins also stars as Charity, Megan's outspoken friend and Thomas's sister.  A cast of relatively unknown, funny actors supports, all resembling the characters they are portraying, such as newcomers Brennan Hillard (who looks like Zac Efron) and Chelsea Makela (who looks like Nikki Blonsky).

Dance Flick is loaded with pop culture jokes, such as references to Jessica Simpson's acting and Jennifer Lopez in general, that add to the fun of the dance movie parodies.  The story uses 2001's Save the Last Dance for its foundation, with Megan White being a ballerina who has given up dancing after her mother's death, and soon falls in love with Thomas Uncles, a hip hop dancer and Charity's brother (this is exactly how the original was, minus the names and the humor).  The rest of the storyline includes primarily You Got Served (2004) and Stomp The Yard (2007) as plot points, such as the fact that Thomas Uncles owes the ferocious and gigantic Sugar Bear (played by David Alan Grier, who ironically was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars) five thousand dollars that he lost in a dance competition.  The story focuses along these three movies (notice they are all hip hop movies), throwing in smaller story lines, such as Charity being a single mother.

A crew of different characters from different dance movies all attend Musical High School (2006's High School Musical reversed), such as Jack (Brennan Hillard), who parodies High School Musical by not wanting to be a basketball star, but something else (in this case, wanting to come out of the closet).  Tracy Transfat (Chelsea Makela) appears from Hairspray (2007) and Christina Murphy is Nora, from Step Up (2006).

A lot of scenes are so funny because they are so random and out there.  For example, the appearance of Ray Charles as a teenager right after a hip hop rapper gets arrested is like traveling from one world to another.  What is not to love about Jack dancing through the hallways of Musical High School in a leotard singing to the tune of Fame (1980), complete with Ray Charles on the piano?  It is certainly interesting to see Thomas Uncles acting out the famous "Maniac" scene from Flashdance (1983).  A certain vampire flick is parodied at the end that has nothing to do with dancing whatsoever, which is what makes it so funny.  If you look closely, you are bound to find other tiny references as well.  However, some scenes that are meant to be funny really aren't (such as making a musical parodying the death of Megan's mother), but these are so few and far in-between that they can easily be overlooked.  There is a good amount of crude humor, but it is completley harmless (it's a parody movie, you have to expect it).

Even if you are not a fan of hip hop music or if you are not impressed by High School Musical, you will still enjoy this film.  It is classic teenage humor that adults of all ages (no little children!) can get.  You can't possibly be offended by this movie because it's all for fun and not meant to be taken seriously.  It may be a bit funnier if you've seen the original dance movies that are being parodied, but even if not, it's just as fun.  So grab a friend or two that will appreciate random, ridiculous humor and enjoy.

It Happened One Night
A film review by Nicole Knapp
March 20, 2012

I wanted to start by saying that I really enjoyed It Happened One Night (1934).  We were talking in my Film Adaptations class about how the characters in the film were more sympathetic and how the movie was all around better, and I agree with this completley.  There was just a certain spirit to the movie that I didnt' feel was present in the story version ("Night Bus" by Samuel Hopkins Adams).  The movie included tenser scenes and overall funnier dialogue; it also twisted situations to make them more interesting.

Since I had already read the story version, I knew that the two main characters were going to turn into lovers in the end, but the film did change things up a bit.  It doesn't seem like an absolutely traditional love story to me, although it does have certain elements of one.  I really like the idea that lovers should be best friends and this story sees the two main characters in sweet moments, tough moments, and downright hilarious moments.  Peter (Clark Gable) and Ellie (Claudette Colbert) get into so many ridiculous situations and it seems like these are the kinds of situations that best buddies (or I suppose, strangers) would get into.  And one of the things I really liked about this movie is that there really is no way that Peter and Ellie can remain strangers.  These kinds of adventures aren't the kind of things I see husbands and wives getting tangled in, but rather people whose relationship with each other isn't quite as organized.  Or, in other words, if Peter and Ellie had already know each other or were already married, I don't think the movie would have had the same feel to it.

It appears that the characters of Peter and Ellie in the film are a bit different from the characters of Peter and Elspeth in the story.  I felt like Elspeth was the more assertive figure in the story with a more headstrong attitude, while Peter was more accomodating and calmer.  In the movie, Ellie seems a bit quieter and even shyer at times, while Peter seems rougher; he calls her "Brat" for the majority of the film.  Ellie really seems very young, like a person who has never really been out in the world before, while Peter seems older, wiser, and a man of the world (which makes sense, since the movie plays more on the fact that he is a newspaper reporter).

The relationship dynamic between the two main characters also seemed different in the movie.  Although Peter and Elspeth banter and get into arguments in the story, Peter and Ellie seem a bit more hostile towards each other in the movie.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing; if anything, it makes their relationship more intense.  It makes the love story aspect more dynamic if the two characters are more outwardly at ends with each other, rather than just civilly disagreeable.

There was a scene that was added to the beginning of the movie and this scene was only mentioned in the story.  In the story version, we learn through Elspeth that she had left home because of a disagreement with her father, but in the movie we are shown this.  I feel like this disagreement could really be the backbone of the entire story and film because if there had never been a disagreement, then Elspeth would have never left home.  Furthermore, if Elspeth had never left home, she would have never met Peter and shared such a strange adventure with him.  And the scene in the movie is played out quite dramatically; there is the argument, Ellie is slapped by her father, and then she promptly dives into the water and swims away.  I think this scene was just perfect in every way because not only was it entertaining and very cinematic, but it also succeeded in showing us exactly why Ellie felt she needed to leave in the first place.

The situation of Ellie running away from home also fits into the hositlity between her and Peter that I mentioned in their relationship dynamic.  In the story, Peter doesn't ever seem to really discuss Elspeth's situation with her very often and he very discreetly informs her father that his daughter is safe and not to give any reward money out.  In the movie, Peter outwardly threatens to turn Ellie over to her father, but this is part of the humor of the film.  The hostility isn't serious; it's the fact that they don't get along and can argue and threaten each other that makes everything quite funny.

Continuing with the subject of humor, there are a lot of fun moments added into the movie that were not present in the story.  On the bus one night, Peter and Ellie join in as the passengers happily sing and have a good time.  There is more singing added in the funny scenes with Mr. Shapeley.  Instead of using a sort of boat to cross a body of water in the story, Peter carries Ellie piggyback across the river.  And they work so well together when it comes to tricking detectives who are on Ellie's trail.

One big change was that there was an outward visible confession of love in the film that didn't appear in the story; in fact, there is not a confession of love until the very end of the story.  During one of the nights in the camps, Ellie confesses to Peter that she is in love with him.  This is a very dramatic scene in the film that fits so well because it is the big screen and we, as viewers, might expect things to be a bit more extraordinary when shown to us.  The confession doesn't end well; it ends with Ellie crying herself to sleep.  This scene is what sets into motion the entire end of the movie: Peter's rush to his newspaper office to give them a story saying he is going to marry Ellie, Ellie discovering he is gone and returning home to marry someone else - basically, everything going wrong.  Ellie even becomes a runaway bride when her father convinces her at the altar that Peter loves her.  This is not how the end of the story version plays out, but it is still a very interesting interpretation that works so well, especially for the representation of the characters in the film.

My main thought throughout the film was really how much chemistry the film version Peter and Ellie had; they found themselves in so many outrageous situations and the addition of scenes and the changing of scenes, as well as the minor adjustments to character, made the film so much fun and very memorable - even much more so than the original story version.

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