11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Enter the medieval mindset,
This review is from: Cathedral (DVD)
Some background information first, to place my review in context. I have studied medieval history, have conducted surveys of medieval churches, and have even written about aspects of medieval history of my home town. So I approached this DVD with some trepidation and curiosity.
This 60-minute DVD commences with an animated sequence showing the imaginary old cathedral of Notre Dame de Beaulieu in northern France being destroyed by fire in the year 1214. `Oh dear', I thought, what have I let myself in for? But I had no need to worry. This is a marvellous production, with all the learning and integrity that PBS brings to its documentaries.
The programme focuses on the cathedrals of northern France - Chartres, Reims, Amiens, Bourges, Paris, Laon and Rennes all appear - and is presented by David Macaulay and Caroline Berg. (They are good, but have an annoying habit of addressing each other rather than the viewer.) They explain how the new Gothic style was distinguished by its greater height, its stone vaults and its walls of glass. They also quote and visit Abbot Suger's visionary works at the abbey of Saint-Denis, just north of Paris (although more recent academic work - this DVD was made in 1985 - has shown that postulated that Suger was really more of a traditionalist).
There are good graphic explanations on-screen of these changes in architecture and their effects, of how walls of glass, for example, had to be supported by piers of greater solidity, to compensate for the now-missing stone. The problem of the subsequent lack of internal volume that this entailed was solved by transferring the support away from the internal piers, which could now be more slender, outside through flying buttresses. The pinnacles on top of these are not there for purely decorative purposes, but also add weight and solidity to the structure.
Meanwhile, the interspersed animated sequences are extensive and continue throughout the programme, giving a good idea of the religious, financial, economic and social background to the construction of such mighty cathedrals. (The voices will be familiar, as they include such luminaries as Derek Jacobi and Brian Blessed.) The role of relics and pilgrimages is considered, as well as where the stone and timber came from to build these medieval skyscrapers, how the work paid for, and how it was organised. Details of how stained glass and tracery in rose windows are covered, as are the types of new sculpture supplied, how the roofs were erected and the stone vaulting was set, and the bells cast. The DVD also highlights the necessary economy in the use of stone.
As cathedrals competed to go higher and higher, there was bound to be a disaster waiting to happen. The collapse of the 150-foot high nave at Beauvais is shown in an aerial shot. Indeed, the aerial shots of the other cathedrals are excellent too, if a little short in length on screen. (But, hey, that's what's the pause button's for!)
Overall, I was very impressed with this DVD, which more than met my expectations. Much was already known, but much also was new to me, for example how the stone vaults were put in place. This programme makes a serious attempt at entering the medieval mindset in which religion and the church took centre-stage. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the medieval period of western civilisation or with an interest in gothic art and architecture.