Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Miracle at Mother Teresa's

"I had already helped expose one of the "miracles" connected with the work of this woman. The man who originally made her famous was a distinguished if rather silly British evangelist (later a Catholic) named Malcolm Muggeridge. It was his BBC documentary, Something Beautiful for God, which launched the "Mother Teresa" brand on the world in 1969. The cameraman for this film was a man named Ken Macmillan, who had won high praise for his work on Lord Clark's great art history series, Civilisation. His understanding of colour and lighting was of a high order. Here is the story as Muggeridge told it, in the book that accompanied the film:

[Mother Teresa's] Home for the Dying is dimly lit by small windows high up in the walls, and Ken [Macmillan] was adamant that filming was quite impossible there. We only had one small light with us, and to get the place adequately lighted in the time at our disposal was quite impossible. It was decided that, nonetheless, Ken should have a go, but by way of insurance he took, as well, some film in an outside courtyard where some of the inmates were sitting in the sun. In the processed film, the part taken inside was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light, whereas the part taken outside was rather dim and confused...I myself am absolutely convinced that the technically unaccountable light is, in fact, the Kindly Light that Cardinal Newman refers to in his well-known exquisite hymn.

He concluded that

This is precisely what miracles are for - to reveal the inner reality of God's outward creation. I am personally persuaded that Ken recorded the first authentic photographic miracle...I fear I talked and wrote about it to the point of tedium.

He was certainly correct in that last sentence: by the time he had finished he had made Mother Teresa into a world-famous figure. My contribution was to check out and put into print the direct verbal testimony of Ken Macmillan, the cameraman himself. Here it is:

During Something Beautiful for God, there was an episode where we were taken to a building that Mother Teresa called the House of the Dying. Peter Chafer, the director, said, "Ah well, it's very dark in here. Do you think we can get something?" And we had just taken delivery at the BBC of some new film made by Kodak, which we hadn't had time to test before we left, so I said to Peter, "Well, we may as well have a go." So we shot it. And when we got back several weeks later, a month or two later, we are sitting in the rushes theater at Ealing Studios and eventually up come the shots of the House of the Dying. And it was surprising. You could see every detail. And I said, "That's amazing. That's extraordinary." And I was going to go on to say, you know, three cheers for Kodak. I didn't get a chance to say that though, because Malcolm, sitting in the front row, spun around and said: "It's divine light! It's Mother Teresa. You'll find that it's divine light, old boy." And three or four days later I found that I was being phoned by journalists from London newspapers who were saying things like: "We hear you've just come back from India with Malcolm Muggeridge and you were the witness of a miracle."

- Christopher Hitchens, 'God is Not Great'

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