Pipes in Film: Saint Simeon and Les Sinners
Believed to have lived from roughly 390 to 459 AD, Saint Simeon the Stylite could be described as, to put it mildly, a rather colorful introvert. Seeking to escape material distractions and worldly temptations, he first sought shelter by concealing himself within in his own hut for a year and a half, then later by climbing to a rocky height of several yards diameter. By that time, however, he had already attained a reputation as a holy man (and, no doubt, as quite a curiosity as well), and soon discovered that even this elevated patch of land left more than enough room for crowds to gather and, well, crowd him - and his attempts at contemplation alike.
Thus did follow his most famous act, that of living atop a series of pillars for thirty-seven years - a feat which resulted in, amongst other things, this son of a Syrian shepherd holding the World Record for holding the longest-standing world record. While this naturally attracted even larger crowds, they could hardly impose themselves, and even as the crowds grew, well-wishers built for him increasingly loftier perches. (The original column Simeon ascended had been but part of an old ruin - its base still stands in the courtyard of the remains of the late 5th century church built in his honor.)
Though he possessed of the earth but a tiny patch of stone little more than a single yard across, Simeon Stylites attained a great view of everything else - land and firmament alike - as well his own time and thought; while he never completely withdrew from the world, writing letters and speaking to those who gathered on the ground below each afternoon, he did so on his own schedule, being otherwise left to his own contemplation.
Now fast-forward roughly fifteen-hundred years, to 1965. This was the year that Mexican filmmaker Luis Buñuel released his own modern reinterpretation of the Syrian saint's tale, Simon of the Desert. Despite featuring some quite well-known names from Mexican cinema at the time, such as Claudio Brook as Simon, and the beautiful Silvia Pinal as the Devil who repeatedly tries to tempt him back down to earth, the story is compressed to a running time of well under an hour. And the final scene, which follows after Silvia's Devil at last resorts to climbing the pillar herself, throws the audience a complete left hook - Simon and the Devil vanishing from their confrontation in the 5th century desert, only to reappear right in the middle of a 1960s dance club at full, hedonistic froth.
As the camera pans across the dance floor, we're shown a wild landscape of thrashing bodies ruled over by the frenetic tunes of (real-life musical act) Les Sinners... the focus eventually setting upon Claudio's Simon, in modern garb, sitting stoically at a small table with Silvia's Devil, a bottle of beer, and - his pipe. Even the Devil herself shakes to the beat as she sits beside Simon, so that he alone remains reposed, unswayed, untempted, and unstirred:
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